The U.S. inland waterways serve as important and economical routes to transport U.S. soy to global markets. Fifty-nine percent of total 2011 soybean exports passed through Mississippi River ports in southern Louisiana. Of those soybeans, 89 percent arrives at those ports via the locks of the U.S. inland waterways. This portion of a soybean’s journey continues to be threatened by aging locks and dams in need of upgrades and maintenance.
A recent study funded by the United Soybean Board’s (USB’s) Global Opportunities (GO) program in coordination with the Soy Transportation Coalition examines potential solutions to maintaining this vital part of U.S. infrastructure.
“We’re shipping nearly half of our soybeans out of this country,” says Dale Profit, soybean farmer and USB farmer-leader from Van Wert, Ohio. “To get those beans to the end user as efficiently as we can and remain competitive in the world market, we need a properly maintained waterway system that meets our needs.”
One approach recommended in the study would be to place greater emphasis on maintenance, rather than new construction, of the current lock and dam system, except in certain circumstances. Such an approach could take several forms:
- Minimal routine and preventative maintenance (this is also called a “fix as fails” strategy).
- Some routine and preventative maintenance.
- Lastly the ideal situation that would provide regular routine maintenance and major rehabilitation
Currently it is estimated that within the next 50 years major rehabilitation would be needed at all 171 lock sites.
“The lock and dam system is the backbone for transporting soybeans and grain in this country,” adds Profit. “It’s important that this infrastructure be properly maintained.”