Here in the Illinois Corn office, the Gulf oil spill is the thing we’re talking about as we gather around the coffee pot in the mornings. I know we aren’t the only ones.

We’re all concerned about the environmental impacts and we’re disappointed that BP can’t seem to figure out a way to get this leak under control. What will happen to the wildlife, the habitats, the beaches, and the water quality as a result of the millions of gallons of oil that are now in the Gulf? I’m happy to see BP pledge funding to post-oil research on some of the topics, even though I’m not sure it’s enough.

There are some pretty interesting video updates about their recovery efforts here.

Environment aside though, we’re concerned about shipping. What happens when barge and freight traffic can’t exit the Mississippi River? Will New Orleans have to shut down once again? And as if having a record corn crop and not having the infrastructure to get it out of Illinois weren’t enough, what if traffic coming upstream is shut down too? We won’t have fertilizers for our crops, salt for our roads, and a host of other products that Illinois ships upstream on the Mighty Mississippi.

When you add the potential for this billion dollar transportation failure to the environmental fiasco, BP has really screwed up.

BNSF Railway is already gearing up for what might be an infrastructure meltdown and hoping to provide additional rail service to the coasts in order to get products to export. This alternative has a higher cost (financially and environmentally) than our current barge system, but is a viable option.

Kevin Kaufman, BNSF’s Group Vice President, Agricultural Products provides a nice podcast on May 6 where he mentions this fact at about minute 2:45. There are actually a lot of other great podcasts on this site if rail transportation is something you’re interested in.

This is what I know – the need for river transportation on the Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio Rivers has never been greater. Illinois farmers are producing more and more corn and continue to feed a growing export market. Barge transportation for our goods and grain is the most environmentally friendly, economic means of transportation available to Illinoisans. We need MORE river transportation, not less.

Jim Tarmann
Field Services Director and River Transportation Guru

Leave a Reply