Army Corps of Engineers set to dredge section of Mississippi River

Soybean checkoff helped fund research for project, which boosts transport of all farm goods.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to deepen the Mississippi River from 45 to 50 feet, on a 256-mile-long stretch between Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Gulf of Mexico, the Corps announced July 31. The project will go to contract later this year and is estimated to be complete in 2024. 

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development will also provide funding for the project, which will allow shipping companies to move more products – including ag commodities – more cost effectively, to global ports. 

The project has been a priority for U.S. soybean producers, says Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. 

“If I had to select a single infrastructure enhancement that would provide the most benefit to the greatest number of U.S. soybean farmers, deepening the lower Mississippi River would be my choice,” he says. 

The project is coming about thanks in part to a $2 million investment by U.S. soybean growers, through the soybean checkoff, for research, planning, analysis, and design of the project, says Meagan Kaiser, treasurer of the USB and a soybean farmer from Bowling Green, Missouri. 

“That $2 million investment opened the door to a $245 million investment from the federal government and the state of Louisiana,” says Kaiser, who cites USB research that shows dredging the river could save 13¢ per bushel of freight, while increasing the load by up to 500,000 bushels per ocean vessel, improving efficiency. 

“By dredging the lower Mississippi we can load ocean containers heavier, adding more bushels per load. It’s good for the farmer, it is good for the environment, and improves reliability to overseas consumers,” Kaiser adds. 

Once complete, the new depth will unlock long-term benefits for soybeans and other U.S. agricultural exports. For the agriculture industry, the Mississippi River is one of the most important waterways in the nation. A report from the Louisiana State University Ag Center says nearly 40% of all U.S. ag exports pass through the lower Mississippi River, which connects the Midwest and Northern growing regions to the global market. Recent expansion of the Panama Canal to accept larger shipping vessels further necessitates improving the Mississippi waterways. 

Research from the Soybean Transportation Coalition (STC) indicates the final 256-mile stretch of the Mississippi River leading into the Port of New Orleans accounts for 60% of U.S. soy exports, and 59% of corn exports from that region arrive via the inland waterway systems. The work conducted in this project specifically supported environmental assessments (research) and education of infrastructure improvements, located near the Port of New Orleans, for the benefit of U.S. farmers.

“The soybean industry made for a great case study and reason to deepen the Mississippi River,” said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. “Once this project is completed, the deepening of the Mississippi River will improve the global imports and exports of goods, and in turn, improve jobs, business, and the quality of life for thousands of Louisianans and others who depend on the Mississippi River. I am grateful for our partnership and the commitment of time and money from the farming leaders of the United Soybean Board, the Soy Transportation Coalition, and countless others who have made this project possible.”

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