Locks and Dams

Farmers Offer $1 Million To Help Move Lock And Dam 25 Project Forward

A group of farmer-funded and farmer-led organizations—including the United Soybean Board, the Soy Transportation Coalition, the Illinois Soybean Association, the Iowa Soybean Association, the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council and the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council—have partnered and offered $1 million to help underwrite the cost of pre-engineering and design expenses at Upper Mississippi River Lock and Dam 25. 

The announcement came after Congress passed an infrastructure bill that includes $17.1 billion in funding for ports and waterways infrastructure. The administration is currently setting up grant programs, and the Corps of Engineers is putting together priority lists to apply for the funding. 

Located in Winfield, Mo., Lock and Dam 25 was opened in 1939 and is the most southern lock and dam on the Mississippi River with a single, 600-by-110-foot lock chamber. Most locks have 1,200-foot chambers than can accommodate modern tow lengths, but at Winfield, tows must be broken up and reformed to pass through, which results in delays. Most barged grain transported along the Mississippi River from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin will pass through Lock and Dam 25 on its way to export facilities near the Gulf of Mexico. 

If Lock and Dam 25 proceeds to construction, it would be the first construction project within the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP). The NESP program calls for the construction of seven new locks—five north of St. Louis on the Upper Mississippi River (25, 24, 22, 21, and 20) and two on the Illinois River (LaGrange and Peoria). Construction at Lock and Dam 25 would result in a new 1,200- by 110-foot lock chamber being built adjacent to the existing 600-foot-long chamber. This would enable a typical 15-barge tow carrying more than 800,000 bushels of soybeans to transit the lock in a single pass (a 30-45 minute process) compared to disassembling the barge tow into two sections, which will result in two passes (more than two 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 is closed. 

The contribution is contingent upon the Corps being able to accept funding from private sector entities for such projects.

It wouldn’t be the first time that the soy groups have helped fund Mississippi River improvements. In 2019, the United Soybean Board contributed $2 million to offset research, education and promotion costs related to the deepening of the Lower Mississippi channel to 50 feet from 45 feet. The Corps has completed more than 80 percent of Phase 1 of that project.

“Because of this successful partnership, farmers have expressed a desire to invest additional funds to help encourage further momentum on other key infrastructure projects—resulting in the initiative to promote Lock and Dam 25,” according to the Soy Transportation Coalition. “Unfortunately, a key link in the agricultural supply chain—the locks and dams along the nation’s navigable waterways—has long been the victim of funding intentions not resulting in funding outcomes. As a result, many of the locks and dams—particularly along the Upper Mississippi River—do not provide the efficiency and resiliency that 21st century agriculture requires.” 

“Many of these critical lock and dam projects along the Upper Mississippi River region have lingered for years—perpetually waiting for the necessary funding to increase their capacity and resilience,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. “Farmers and other stakeholders believe it is time for Lock and Dam 25 and other priority projects to finally move from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box.” 

“Because of all the work over the years by a variety of agricultural leaders, the barge and towing industry and so many other inland waterways stakeholders, we are on the cusp of achieving tangible results for a number of these important projects on the Upper Mississippi River,” Steenhoek said. “The team of inland waterways stakeholders are all working to ensure Lock and Dam 25 and other lock and dam projects will become a reality in the near future. The $1 million offer by farmers is a supplement to this overall effort. With the finish line in sight, farmers and other stakeholders truly want to run through the tape.”