A watershed moment for Upper Mississippi locks and dams modernization has finally arrived, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says the Army Corps’ funding announcement last week is huge for Midwest agriculture.
“It is a very big deal for American agriculture that those resources are going to go to improve the lock and dam systems.”
Secretary Vilsack told Illinois Democrat Cheri Bustos during a House Ag hearing that the Army Corps’ 829 million-dollar announcement means a more competitive Ag sector. “We can cut literally in half the time it takes for a barge with soybeans to travel the Mississippi River by improving the lock and dam system. What does that mean? It means that we get that product to port more quickly, less expensively, and, as a result, we can price that product for export at a very competitive price.”
Modernization, starting with Lock and Dam 25 north of St. Louis, is key to that effort. “Our ability to compete in a very competitive circumstance for agricultural exports is absolutely directly-connected to the advantage of our transportation system.”
Much of which on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers dates to the 1930s when Franklin Roosevelt was president. Today, Vilsack says record exports demand modern locks. “I’m pleased that we had a record year in agricultural exports last year, and that’s one of the reasons that farm income is up. And we expect and anticipate we’re going to surpass that record this year.”
But long-term, Vilsack argues maintaining that competitive edge hinges on having modern locks.