So much for those “shovel-ready projects” that the stimulus bill was supposed to fund. According to a March 16, 2011, press release from the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, the Obama administration is about to allow much of the Great Lakes navigation system to fill up with silt due to funding cuts.

“The Administration's proposal to slash the Great Lakes dredging budget by 32% in FY12 has the Great Lakes shipping industry declaring a state of emergency,” states the press release. “Never in my 51 years in this industry have I seen such a total abandonment of the Federal government's responsibility to maintain the Great Lakes navigation system,” says John D. Baker, president of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force. “Cargo movement on ‘the Fourth Sea Coast’ can top 200 million tons/year, yet the Federal government is turning its back on us.

“What was a dredging crisis is now a State of Emergency for each of the eight Great Lakes states,” adds Baker. “At this funding level, the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] won't be able to dredge even half of the sediment that builds up each year. If this proposed dredging budget is implemented, ports will close and cargo will either shift to modes of transportation that burn more fuel and produce more emissions than vessels or production will be moved to other regions of the country or even overseas.”

Worries over keeping river waterways open for transportation also abound.

According to USDA’s March 17, 2011 grain transportation report, “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is implementing a dredging schedule to keep the authorized depth at the mouth at the Mississippi River at 45 ft.”

However, “for most of the year, high water conditions have carried large quantities of silt that accumulates at the mouth of the Mississippi River,” adds USDA. “The silt deposits are dredged to return the river to normal operating depths. When water depths are reduced, some grain vessels cannot be loaded at the vessel’s maximum cargo capacity, causing economic inefficiencies for U.S. grain exporters in the global market. The Corps is responsible for dredging the mouth of the Mississippi River. There is debate on whether there will be sufficient funding for more dredging later in FY11.”

Indeed there is, both for 2011 and 2012.

According to the American Waterways Operators’ March 21, 2011 newsletter, “the President’s proposed [FY12] budget provides the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Program] with a total of $4.6 billion, a reduction of $913 million, or 15%, from FY10 funding levels. The construction account fell by 27% from FY10 levels.”

Add to this debate, the high likelihood of flooding that the USDA is forecasting for this spring, and the likelihood for more need in funding rises again. To maintain shipping along important inland waterways, such as the Mississippi River, additional funding for lock and dam maintenance and repair, in addition to dredging needs, continues to increase.

So, with U.S. corn, soybean and wheat exports currently riding a high tidal wave of demand, there may be not be an infrastructure in place capable of handling it. Congress and the president need to step up and provide adequate funding to shovel out the silt that threatens to both land lock and cut off the nation’s interior core business, which is agriculture.

For more information on the need to maintain and improve waterway transportation for grain exports, download pdf from the National Corn Growers Association (http://www.ncga.com/files/pdf/7609InlandWaterways.pdf).

Whether you agree or disagree about the need to increase funding for the nation’s waterway transportation system for agriculture, I’d be happy to consider your opinion. When writing, please let me know your name, where you farm or work, what your comment is and whether or not I have permission to use your comment in a future Corn E-Digest newsletter.

You can contact me (John Pocock) at: john.pocock@penton.com. You're also welcome to write to me if you have concerns or questions about this newsletter or if you have ideas on topics you’d like to see me write about for future issues.

I look forward to hearing from you.