It’s all connected: Inland Waterways Crucial to US Agriculture

Fertilizer plays an important role in the nation’s food supply chain because farmers depend on fertilizer to nourish the soil and their crops. For Deerfield, Illinois-based CF Industries, a global leader in fertilizer manufacturing and distribution, the inland waterways system is critical to the company and its farmer customers.  The competitiveness of manufacturing and agriculture depends on a modern and efficient inland waterway system that moves products and commodities valued at $185 billion annually.

Moving the fertilizer from the shop floor to farmers across the country is no easy task. U.S. farmers must have the fertilizer on a timely basis for the unpredictable spring and fall planting seasons. The nation’s 12,000 miles of commercially navigable inland and coastal waterways play an important role in its delivery. About half of the fertilizer needed for spring planting by U.S. farmers travels upriver on the Mississippi and its tributaries. Many of these crops, including corn and wheat, end up filling those same barges when headed downriver to market for domestic and international consumption.

Unfortunately, there was trouble on the Mississippi last year—a low-water crisis that led to restricted river access for barge shippers. In November and December, CF Industries and other companies in the fertilizer industry were forced to light-load barges to ensure safe river navigation, which in turn made it challenging to move the necessary fertilizer to Midwestern farmers in advance of the spring planting season. Thanks to a coordinated industry effort that educated Congress and the Obama Administration on measures that needed to be taken to improve conditions along the river, CF Industries was able to make the best of the situation and ensure that farmers still received fertilizer in a timely and efficient manner. However, the uncertainty over two months pointed to the need for a long-term strategy that modernizes our nation’s inland waterways, not short-term fixes.

For CF Industries, passing H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 (WRRDA) is key to improving the certainty of inland waterway transport. Adequate investment and recapitalization of inland waterways infrastructure will keep locks and dams operational for many years to come. With more than half of the locks exceeding their design life, Congress cannot afford to wait much longer. “We simply cannot sustain the status quo,” said Alicia Meads, CF Industries’ manager of legislative affairs, at a National Association of Manufacturers Shopfloor briefing for transportation lawmakers on Capitol Hill earlier this year.

Modern lock and dam infrastructure is essential to ensuring that American farmers have access to the fertilizer they need to grow their crops and feed our nation’s families. CF Industries will continue to advocate for passage of WRRDA until it becomes law because our food supply chain depends on it.

It’s All Connected is a blog series by manufacturers focused on the need for authorization of the Water Resources Development Act.

Leave a Reply