Lock or Dam Failures Studied

USB says without major rehabilitation agriculture could cost American agriculture millions.

Published on: Jan 26, 2012

A study released by the United Soybean Board and the soybean checkoff's Global Opportunities program found that American farmers and consumers - will suffer severe economic distress - if catastrophic  lock or dam failures take place. The report continues - more than half of the structures that are part of the U.S. inland waterway system for river barge shipping exceed their 50-year usable lifespan. And more than one-third surpass 70 years of age, and the study states that because - major rehabilitation is usually necessary to expand the typical lifespan from 50 to 75 years.

"The GO committee invested in this study to calculate the impact of the worsening condition of the lock and dam system and what the impact would be on the rail and highway system if those locks failed," says Laura Foell, soybean farmer from Schaller, Iowa, and chair of the GO committee. "It is important for all in the industry and in the public sector to have the information necessary to make informed decisions when it comes to investing in our locks and dams."

The study, conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, examined the condition of locks on the Upper Mississippi River, Illinois River and Ohio River. The study also calculated the economic impact of specific lock failures on districts within states, showing the effect on agricultural commodity prices - and on fertilizer and coal prices, which also depend on upstream river barge shipping.

Just on the Ohio River alone, the accumulated shipping delays at broken-down locks has more than tripled since 2000, rising from 25,000 hours to 80,000 hours annually. As an example, this study shows that a three-month lock closure would increase the cost of transporting 5.5-million tons of oilseeds and grain, the average shipped by barge during that period, by $71.6 million. A failure at any of the locks examined by the study could cost U.S. farmers up to $45 million in lost revenue.