The September closure of Lock 27 on the Mississippi River had farmers and legislators alike questioning the strength and integrity of existing river infrastructure. Now, an interactive map sponsored by the United Soybean Board and the soy checkoff puts those concerns in monetary terms.
USB says many of the locks in the U.S. inland waterway system are past their usable lifespan and have not been appropriately maintained.
A lock failure would hurt U.S. farmers who use the waterways to ship their products and also U.S. consumers who eventually buy those products, they say. . In addition, farmers and consumers would see prices for fuel and coal increase.
The interactive map allows users to refine results by lock and location, showing the effect a failure at each of five locks on the Ohio, Mississippi and Illinois rivers would have on U.S. soybean and corn prices.
For example, on the Ohio River, a closure of Lock 52 could reach soybean farmers pocketbooks as far away as California. The map lists a $2.9 million cost to U.S. farmers if the lock experienced a two-week failure. That figure climbs to $13.9 million for a one-year failure.
On the Upper Mississippi, a one-year failure of Lock 25 is projected to cost $44.7 million.
Information included in the map was compiled in a soy-checkoff-funded study that shows the importance of the U.S. inland waterway system to U.S. soybean farmers.
The study, prepared by the Texas Transportation Institute, said the surface transportation system is central to agriculture's ability to meet domestic and world demand.
"The rapidly deteriorating condition of the nation's lock and dam infrastructure imperils the ability of the waterborne transportation system to provide a service that will enable U.S. agricultural producers to continue to compete. Should a catastrophic failure of lock and dam infrastructure occur, agricultural producers—and consequently the American consumer—will suffer severe economic distress," the study authors wrote.
The research found that on average, a lock on the Ohio River accommodated a total freight volume of 4.1 million tons per month. The average freight volumes on the Illinois and Upper Mississippi Rivers were 1.6 million and 1.7 million tons, respectively.