More than 20 agricultural organizations joined together to send a letter to government officials requesting action to maintain barge navigation on the Mississippi River.

The explanation below and request for those in the agricultural industry to contact their Senate and House members of Congress came from Richard Gupton, Agricultural Retailers Association, senior vice president public policy and counsel, last week. Immediate action is needed, he noted.  

“As you may be aware, there is need for immediate action to maintain navigation on the Mississippi River. Navigation on a critical 200-mile stretch of the Mississippi River will be severly impaired—barge transportation may cease altogether—by mid-December unless the administration takes emergency action to ensure statutorily authorized nine-foot draft to maintain commercial navigation. ARA has joined 20 other agricultural and waterway organizations in a letter to President Obama and other senior federal officials and members of Congress urging their help on this critical industry issue,” Gupton wrote.

ARA and others involved in agriculture are being urged to contact their members of Congress and President Obama to request their help on this issue. “Please make sure to request other officials within your organization to also submit a letter and/or call these offices,” Gupton stressed. 

Below is the letter that was signed and sent to the government officials. Points from the letter would be appropriate to use when personally contacting members of Congress and/or President Obama.

Gupton offered to be available to answer questions. His e-mail is

December 4, 2012

The Honorable President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Support for Presidential Declaration of Emergency to Maintain Mississippi River Navigation Essential to U.S. Agriculture

Dear Mr. President:
The undersigned national associations representing the diverse expanse of U.S. agricultural producer, commodity, livestock and poultry, and agribusiness organizations join in urging your immediate action to maintain navigation on the Mississippi River between St. Louis, Mo., and Cairo, Ill.

Navigation on this strategic 200-mile stretch of the Mississippi River will be impaired severely – and barge transportation may well cease altogether – by mid-December unless the administration takes emergency action to ensure the statutorily authorized 9-foot draft needed to maintain commercial navigation. This disruption would occur during one of the busiest and most critical periods of the year for U.S. agriculture’s use of barge transportation. It is during this late fall and early winter period that southbound movements of grains, oilseeds and grain products for export to foreign buyers are at their peak, prior to the onset of the South American harvest. Meanwhile, northbound barge transport of fertilizer and other essential farm inputs is critically needed to position supplies for spring planting. Disrupting navigation on the Mississippi River also will have a devastating impact on access to the Illinois River, as grain, fertilizer and many other commodities shipped to and from that waterway must traverse through St. Louis.

We respectfully urge that authority provided under Section 501(b) of the Stafford Act be used immediately to declare an emergency, and that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers specifically be directed to:

  • Release measured, but sufficient, flows from Missouri River reservoirs dams to maintain a 9-foot navigation channel on the Mississippi River. Such efforts will sustain commercial navigation in anticipation of potential releases of less water during the spring navigation season if winter rains and snows do not materialize to adequately replenish these reservoirs.
  • Waive federal acquisition rules to expedite the agency’s contract-award procedures and order that the Corps take immediate action to remove the rock pinnacles near Grand Tower and Thebes, Ill. Combined with reduced water levels, these rock formations – remnants from earlier blasting to clear the channel – present significant hazards to navigation. The Corps has indicated that absent such action, work would not begin until February 2013 and would take up to 60 days to complete – a totally unacceptable outcome given what is at stake. It is important to emphasize that while removal of these rocks should be helpful, this action in-and-of-itself is not expected to fully alleviate the need for Missouri River flows to maintain navigation.

The Mississippi River “superhighway” is essential to U.S. agriculture, serving as the primary means for transporting essential agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer, and providing access to domestic and international markets for U.S. farmers’ production. Navigation during the next few months is particularly critical for securing supplies for the 2013 planting season and marketing of the 2012 grain and oilseed crop.

During a typical weather year, nearly 60 percent of U.S. grain and oilseed exports – including more than 2.5 billion bushels of corn and soybeans – typically transit the Mississippi River. Even during this drought-plagued crop year, the United States is projected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to export more than 65 million metric tons of grains (primarily corn, sorghum, wheat and rice) and nearly 37 million metric tons of soybeans. U.S. agricultural exports, including value-added products such as meat, represent one of the few positive contributors to the U.S. balance of trade. Now is the most critical time for such exports, as the United States even in a drought year represents the principal source of corn and soybean exports prior to the onset of the South American harvest next spring and summer.

In total, it is projected that approximately 300 million bushels of grains and oilseeds worth $2.3 billion would be delayed in reaching intended markets during the two-month period of December 2012 through January 2013 if Mississippi River navigation is disrupted. Unfortunately, the impact already is being felt, as average freight rates for Panamax vessels needed to ship grains and minerals to foreign buyers on Nov. 30 declined for the fourth straight day – reflecting reduced cargoes available for export to Asia and other foreign markets. Reduced supplies in export positions would pressure farm prices and erode the United States’ ability and reputation as a reliable supplier of agricultural products to serve foreign buyers, which is integrally important to U.S. and global economic growth, domestic jobs and global food security.

Equally important is the role that the Mississippi River plays as an integral transportation artery for fertilizer and other critical farm inputs needed to maintain the United States’ abundant and efficient agricultural production. For instance, fertilizer terminals from Cairo, IL, northbound that are dependent upon sourcing product via barges will be shut down completely if navigation is impeded. That potentially would disrupt delivery of more than 500,000 tons of fertilizer, which constitutes 30 to 60 percent of the fertilizer needed by U.S. farmers for spring planting. Farmers also could experience increases in fertilizer prices reflecting higher transportation costs.

Losing access to efficient, low-cost barge transportation also would affect U.S. farmers and agribusinesses adversely through increased transportation costs. Barges provide a competitive alternative that discipline the rates charged by other modes, particularly rail. In addition, it would be neither feasible nor cost-effective to divert agricultural commodities to truck and rail, given capacity and routing constraints. A single dry-bulk barge – the type typically used to transport grains, oilseeds and fertilizer – can haul 1,750 tons of product, compared to 110 tons in a bulk rail car and 25 tons in a truck trailer. The impact of Mississippi River navigation disruptions on prices paid to farmers could be significant; one need look only to the precipitous decline in basis levels – the difference between futures and cash market prices – following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to see the devastating impacts that disruptions in inland waterway and port transportation can have on producers reliant on marketing their commodities to barge-loading facilities.

As severe as these and other impacts of Mississippi River navigation disruptions would be on U.S. farmers and agriculture, they do not account for the cascading impacts and costs that would be felt by American consumers and our fellow citizens as a result of impacts on other industrial products – such as coal, imported fuel, road salt and other goods.

At the same time, significant U.S. job losses are projected if mid-Mississippi navigation is disrupted. A study conducted on behalf of Waterways Council Inc. and The American Waterway Operators released Nov. 30, 2012 showed that states adjacent to the Mississippi River would sustain an immediate negative impact on jobs and wages. Specifically, the study found that closure of navigation between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., would result in the loss of an estimated 20,000 jobs and more than $130 million in wages during just a two-month period (December 2012 and January 2013), with the potential toll highest in Louisiana, Illinois and Missouri.

For these reasons, we respectfully reiterate our request that the administration take immediate action outlined previously to maintain legally authorized navigation on the Mississippi River system. We appreciate your consideration of our views, and urge your immediate attention to this critical issue.