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Strain Mississippi River resolution approved by NASDA

February 18, 2011

Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., successfully authored a resolution issued by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) this week strongly urging the United States Army Corps of Engineers to maintain the lower Mississippi River deep draft navigation channel at a 45-foot depth.
Strain enlisted the support of his fellow state agriculture commissioners, secretaries and directors at NASDA’s midyear meeting this week in Reston, Va.
The vote to support “action to fully utilize all funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for the purposes of dredging our nation’s ports, rivers and waterways to fully meet navigation channel maintenance requirements” was unanimous.
Strain is also working with Congressman Rodney Alexander of Quitman and the rest of the Louisiana congressional delegation to enlist support to fund the portion of the Corps of Engineers’ budget that would maintain the river’s shipping channel to its necessary depth. Alexander included wording concerning the Corps’ $2.6 billion budget specific to Mississippi River dredging issues into the continuing resolution budget debate occurring in Congress at this time, Strain said.
"The Mississippi River is the lifeline for transportation of agricultural products in our nation. We must collectively do everything we can to secure the necessary funding to dredge its channels" said Strain.  
Strain told the NASDA membership that at least $85 million is needed annually to keep the river deep enough from the Gulf of Mexico to Baton Rouge but the Corps only receives about $53 million for river dredging. At times, it takes more than $100 million to dredge the lower river, Strain said.
Strain said passage of Congressman Charles Boustany of Lafayette’s “Realize America’s Maritime Promise” (RAMP) bill would guarantee that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund would be used solely for the maintenance of America’s waterways.
“The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is maintained by taxes paid on cargo for the purpose of channel maintenance,” Strain said. “Historically only about half of the money generated by this tax is spent on its intended purpose. I urge Congress to support Representative Boustany’s RAMP bill.”
The Associated Branch Pilots have already begun restricting ships to no more than 44 feet of draft, down from the 45-foot level authorized by Congress, Strain said. Restrictions on hours of travel are also in place. Shippers estimate that a one-foot reduction in draft means a ship must reduce its cargo by 1500 tons at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars.
“If these restrictions continue it will ultimately become much more difficult for Louisiana and the agricultural and industrial producers of our country to compete in the global market,” Strain said.
Strain said continued Congressional support is necessary to maintain the economic viability of the Mississippi River.
“The Mississippi River and its tributaries form the most critical inland waterway system in America and supports about 45 percent of the nation’s soybean exports and 50 to 60 percent of the total U.S. corn exports,” he said. “Annually, about 400 million bushels of soybeans, 1.1 billion bushels of corn and more than 30 million bushels of wheat are moved by barge to ports along the Lower Mississippi River.
“Agriculture is one of the largest single contributors to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), and is critical to our economy. Any disruption in commerce will have devastating impacts on the farmers and ranchers who produce our food and fiber.”
Strain said he was pleased with the unanimous NASDA support.
“Louisiana was built on the banks of the Mississippi River and the river is very important to our state,” Strain said. “In Louisiana, it’s a local issue, but the economic health of the river system is vital to all of America’s agricultural, industrial and security interests. I’m very happy that my fellow ag commissioners feel the same way.”