The offer by a group of farmer-funded and farmer-led organizations—including the United Soybean Board, Soy Transportation Coalition, Illinois Soybean Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Corn Promotion Board, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council and Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council—of $1 million to help underwrite the cost of pre-engineering and design expenses at Lock and Dam 25 is very welcome.
The offered award would draw renewed attention to the neglected Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP). NESP is “a long-term program of navigation improvements and ecological restoration for the Upper Mississippi River System that will be implemented incrementally over a 50-year period through integrated, adaptive management,” according to its website. It is meant to supplement and be integrated with other major appropriations to the river system.
The last time any money was spent on NESP, though, was for an economic update in 2019. No construction funds for any NESP project have ever been appropriated. If funded, construction of ecosystem restoration projects and small-scale navigation projects “could start within the first year following receipt of construction funds.” NESP advocates and champions have never understood why the program is so underfunded, given the dire need.
The Rock Island Engineer District received $5 million in investigations funding in the Corps’ FY21 work plan for continuation of pre-construction engineering and design (PED) activities—$2.625 million for navigation projects and $2.375 million for ecosystem projects. The navigation portion includes money for lock wall modifications at Lock and Dam 25. Another million could make a huge difference.
As we note in this issue, this is not the first time that farmers have stepped up to help contribute to our waterways infrastructure. Their contributions to the deepening of the Lower Mississippi River were significant. That’s understandable. The market for exported corn, soybeans and other U.S. grains is volatile and subject to swings for many reasons.
But farmers know that regardless of whatever happens with energy, sustainability, infrastructure spending or the supply chain, one rock-solid certainty is that America’s inland waterways will be at the center of developments. Having reliable waterborne transportation will be more important than ever, not less, to America’s farmers in the future.