Ag sector improves competitiveness with infrastructure implementation of $829 million investment in Mississippi River locks and dams improvements.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

January 19, 2022

5 Min Read
Barge tow on Mississippi River USDA.jpg

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will target $829.1 million investment in lock and dam modernization projects along the Upper Mississippi River with funding made available in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. A significant priority for soybean and grain farmers was the $732 million designated to complete the design and construction of the Lock and Dam 25.

Nearly every bushel of soybeans, corn, and other grain transported along the Mississippi River from the states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin will pass through Lock and Dam 25 en route to export facilities near the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Corps’ spending plan, which includes about $4 billion for commercial navigation improvements at ports and on inland waterways, details how the Corps will allocate money under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the 2022 Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Also included in the spending plan includes $465 million for the Kentucky Lock on the Tennessee River near Grand Rivers, Ky., to complete and fiscally close out the project; $857.7 million for the Montgomery Lock on the Ohio River 30 miles south of Pittsburgh; $52.5 million for the TJ O’Brien Lock and Dam on the Illinois Waterway as part of the major rehabilitation funding; and $109 million to physically complete and fiscally close out the Three Rivers project on the Arkansas River southwest of Pittsburgh. In total, it provides $2.21 billion for inland construction.  

Additionally, as part of the Navigation & Ecosystem Sustainability Program is an ecosystem restoration component, a fish passage at Lock 22 funded at $97.10 million to complete the design and to initiate construction. 

Crucial Lock 25 funded

The $829 million funding for the Mississippi River locks and dams is part of the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program or NESP which will be used to complete the modernization of Lock & Dam 25, including the construction of a new 1,200-foot lock, as well as an environmental restoration project at Lock & Dam 22 and other small-scale ecosystem and navigation projects in the region.

“Funding Lock and Dam 25 to completion is a huge deal to grain handlers, ag exporters and U.S. ag competitiveness as a whole,” says Bobby Frederick, senior vice president of legislative affairs and public policy at the National Grain and Feed Association.

The announcement comes one month after a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers called on the Army Corps to prioritize the funding for construction of NESP on the Upper Mississippi River System with the $2.5 billion for inland waterways provided in the new infrastructure law.

There was a bipartisan group of lawmakers who fought to fund NESP in the still unresolved FY 22 appropriations process and that was headed in the right direction, explains Frederick. The $2.5 billion designated within the bipartisan infrastructure law for inland waterways constriction projects was a huge deal. This will allow the full funding of construction of one of the seven NESP locks to completion.

Originally authorized in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, NESP will modernize and expand seven outdated locks at the most congested lock locations along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers as well as fund nearly $2 billion in ecosystem restoration. 

Located in Winfield, Missouri (45 miles north of St. Louis), Lock and Dam 25 was opened in 1939 and is the most southern lock and dam on the Mississippi River with a single, 600 ft. x 110 ft. lock chamber. The construction at Lock and Dam 25 will result in a new 1,200 ft. x 110 ft. lock chamber being built adjacent to the existing 600 ft. x 110 ft. lock chamber. 

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soybean Transportation Coalition, says this would enable a typical fifteen barge tow – transporting over 800,000 bushels of soybeans or corn – to transit the lock in one single pass which is a 30-45 minute process compared to disassembling the barge tow into two sections, which will result in two passes and take over 2 hours. 

“In addition, a second lock will provide needed resiliency and redundancy – allowing a key link in the supply chain to remain operational if one of the lock chambers was closed,” Steenhoek adds.   

“Many who have been engaged in agriculture for a number of years are familiar with the repeated efforts to achieve necessary funding from the federal government to enhance a number of the key lock and dam sites along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.  Unfortunately, most of these funding intentions did not result in funding outcomes,” Steenhoek says.  “As a result, many of these lock and dam facilities – including Lock and Dam 25 – have continued to wait for needed enhancements,” Steenhoek says. 

Keeping ag competitive

The UMRS transports more than 60% of America’s corn and soybeans, is home to 25% of North America’s fish species, and is a globally important flyway for 40% of North America’s migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. Legislators state enhancing the reliability and capacity of the seven highest-use and most delayed locks on the UMRS through NESP ensures that the most environmentally-conscious and safe method of transporting bulk commodities will continue for the next generation. 

A 2019 study released by USDA showed that rebuilding NESP locks would inject $72 billion additional dollars into the nation’s GDP.   

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., was one of the rural advocates for the infrastructure bill, as well as urge action to prioritize Lock and Dam 25. “This years-long effort to modernize the locks and dams of the Mississippi will help our agricultural producers bring tons of goods to market faster, increase trade by speeding up the transport of American products, spur job creation, alleviate supply chain stress and help reduce transportation emissions,” Bustos says.

“This investment to improve the safety and navigability of the Mississippi River is great news for farmers, businesses and Missouri’s economy,” adds Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “I’m glad the USACE will have significant resources to advance projects that will make it easier and less expensive for farmers and businesses to get their goods to market. Modernizing our waterways will continue to be a top priority in my efforts to ensure our state has the tools it needs to lead the way in a global economy.”

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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