2014 is turning out to be a record corn harvest year. Farmers in Illinois are forecast to harvest an average of almost 200 bushels per acre – when the 2013 average was only 178 bushels per acre.
You might also remember that more than half of Illinois corn leaves the state for export, much of it floating down the Mississippi River. Which makes a 14 day river closure – right now in the thick of harvest – one of those things that makes you go hmmmmmmm.
At this point in the year, a 14-day lock closure could have catastrophic consequences.
Read this to learn more about the Army Corps of Engineers and their surprise river closure during harvest!
Here’s where some of our staff were this week – showing staffers of the Illinois Congressional Delegation how our locks and dams are literally falling apart to the touch! Hopefully this will help Congress understand why we desperately need funding to finally fix this issue!!
The latest update is a sad, but true status quo. Congress seems to understand that locks and dams should be a priority, and they pass legislation that make locks and dams a priority, but we get no funding appropriated that puts teeth behind their legislation.
The most recently passed Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) is no exception. This bill does contain some needed reforms and authorizations, but without appropriations, honestly doesn’t mean much.
The best and most promising part of the bill changes the funding mechanism for Olmsted Lock and Dam to 85 percent from federal treasury and 15 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. Simply making a change that forces the U.S. Government to pay for their own crazy inefficiencies is significant – because it frees up money in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to start construction on other projects.
However, the most needed reform, an increase to the barge user fee that barge companies, farmers, and other river users all support, elludes us. This increase would put some real money back into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and help us to move lock and dam upgrades more quickly through the system.
Interesting that everyone who would be paying this fee supports it because new locks and dams would more than make the money back for them in efficiencies – but Congress still won’t pass it.
If this issue interests you, AND IT SHOULD because poor river transportation effects rock salt deliveries for icy Chicago streets and many other inputs you are used to, read our articles on this topic.
We might be a little late for Throwback Thursday #tbt, but this old photo of a former IL Corn leader doing a news broadcast on the dilapidated state of a locks and dams really hits home one point – we’ve been working on upgrading our river transportation system for YEARS!
Our fingers are crossed that we get a new Water Resources Development Act bill passed next week. After that, we keep working to pass an increase in the barge fuel tax that will give us the increased income to make some notable progress!
This week, I’ve spelled out IL Corn’s priorities as they stand right now and asked Santa to fix them for us for Christmas. The fact of the matter is, that he could probably fix them all, by bringing us this very last gift.
Santa, we’d love a functional U.S. and state government for Christmas.
For those of you outside Illinois, I’m sure the partisanship and the bickering in the federal government gets old and exhausting. The budget issues are concerning with no solution in sight. The leadership is lacking at times.
Here in Illinois, we deal with that at the state level too.
With a reasonable, functional, and able to compromise government at the state and federal level, we’d be able to talk through our need for locks and dams. It’s a request that just makes sense, yet we can find minimal leadership to help us fix it.
We would have had a farm bill the first time. Do you remember your shock when the farm bill failed on the House floor this year?
We would have E15 incentives because the legislation just makes sense. Who doesn’t want to save money at the pump? Who doesn’t at least want the CHOICE to save money at the pump? Who doesn’t want more money in our state budget?
Santa, this request is short and sweet. Could you give our legislators a change of heart? Make our governments work efficiently and meaningfully towards solutions to our biggest problems?
In the end, that’s all we really want for Christmas.
We have fourteen years of working on upgrading locks and dams under our belt. Fourteen years. FOURTEEN YEARS.
Luckily, we’ve learned a few things.
Legislators don’t want to fund things that take more than 2 years to come to fruition. They want to obtain funding for a project that will return results before they are back up for reelection. This makes our project difficult.
Funding is hard to come by – especially with a gazillion dollar deficit.
Individual Congressmen told us that we needed to build coalitions and get more people involved. We did that. We now have a coalition of agriculture, trade unions, environmental interests, barge companies, and more involved in pushing for upgraded locks and dams. It hasn’t gotten us anywhere so far, but we’ll continue pushing.
There’s a lot of waste and mismanagement. The Olmsted Lock and Dam has been a work in progress since 1988 and still isn’t finished. The original cost of $775 million ballooned to a current cost (for an unfinished lock!) of almost $3 billion. This poor prioritization of funds and project is a problem.
Congress now tells us that public-private partnerships are the ticket so that’s what we’re proposing. Farmers are willing to pay an additional barge fee to increase the private funding if government can allocate funding too. But Congressmen aren’t willing to “increase taxes” in this political climate even though all the folks that pay the “tax” are willing and begging for its implementation.
Government dysfunction hinders us all … and lock and dam funding isn’t an exception.
We have had some recent successes, but the key here is to continue being patient because every gain is very small baby step in the right direction. The Water Resources and Reform Development Act is right now in conference committee. Both the House and Senate versions contained some changes to the funding mechanism for Olmstead which will free up money to start other lock and dam projects on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. This is a win, but a small one. The new WRRDA will not contain an increase in the barge fuel tax or any additional funding allocations.
For Christmas, Illinois corn farmers just want locks and dams that allow them to be competitive in a global marketplace. They want locks and dams that work, and don’t spontaneously combust into the river. (You think I’m joking, but take a look at this video. These locks are OLD and in need of massive repair.)
If I’ve inspired you at all, would you ask for the same?
RELATED CURRENT EVENT: A new Water Resources and Reform Development Act is in conference committee right now where the House and Senate are trying to iron out their differences in the two bills passed in their chambers. The final bill will hopefully change the funding mechanism for Olmsted Lock and Dam repairs, which are significantly over time and budget, freeing up money to begin construction on a new locks and dams on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. For more information on Illinois’ desperate need for new locks and dams, click here!
This is a super fun video that explains some of the reasons we need to update and upgrade our locks and dams. Did you know that the locks and dams we’re using today were built during Mark Twain’s time for paddle boats?
Today we are celebrating the Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) that just passed in the House last night. It attempts to fix some of the problems but STILL doesn’t help us get the funds to build new locks and dams. In fact, this WRRDA doesn’t even include an increase in the user fee that industry all agrees to in order to get more money in the pot. This isn’t even federal money!!!
Learn more about our efforts to modernize our waterways infrastructure here and here!
The Illinois Corn Growers Association returned from Washington, DC late last night with a bucketful of stories, opinions, and tactics to make a difference in federal policy during the 113th session of Congress.
Overall, there was a lot of negativity on the hill. We heard from agency’s, associations, lobbyists, and others who all believe that to see any meaningful action on the hill would be a miracle. Conversely, a few Congressmen talked positively that work would get done and bills would be debated and passed because “something has to happen.”
Of course, we hope so.
We hope to see a five-year farm bill passed in 2013. Simply extending last year’s bill after it expired in Sept 2012 to cover this year doesn’t give farmers any sort of certainty about the business climate they must operate in for the coming years. Putting this off isn’t a good decision for anyone.
We hope to see a Water Resources Development Act passed in 2013 too. This week, we advocated for a WRDA bill that incorporated authorization of funds to upgrade locks and dams on the Mississippi River. Congress was marking up a WRDA bill also this week so we are encouraged by some action and hope that we can all work together to see a new lock upgrade start in 2014.
Finally, we want to preserve the Renewable Fuel Standard. We believe in the original intention of the RFS – to help our country become energy independent while improving the environment – and we want to see the standard maintained. Hopefully, with nothing happening on the Hill this year, threats to the RFS won’t have legislative legs to stand on.
All in all, it was a busy four days on Capitol Hill. Days filled with around 150 visits to Congressmen, agencies, associations, and corporations. Days filled with learning about trade, biotech, sustainability initiatives, crop insurance, farm bill, ethanol, livestock and more. Long days with sore backs and aching legs from carrying folders and papers and walking miles over hallowed ground.
All worth it, of course, for the good of the industry.
Celebrate Ag Week this week by sharing our blog on your facebook page or over twitter. Encourage people to gain information about farmers and their food supply. Call your Congressman about any of the above issues. Eat … and know that your food supply is safe and secure.