The drought that almost halted barge traffic on the Mississippi River illustrates that the U.S. must improve inland waterways to remain competitive in export markets, a Cargill Inc. shipping executive said.
“Our locks and dams are aging, and they’re not aging very gracefully,” Rick Calhoun, the president of Cargill’s marine and terminal division, said today in a presentation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual outlook forum in Arlington, Virginia.
Low water levels on the Mississippi, the busiest U.S. waterway, threatened to shut down commercial barge traffic in December and January, giving the public “an understanding of the importance of waterways to America,” he said.
Companies including AEP River Operations LLC, a unit of American Electric Power Co. of Columbus, Ohio, and American Commercial Lines Inc. of Jeffersonville, Indiana, idled boats because of the slowdown, showing the potential for losses to commerce should infrastructure failures cause more delays, Calhoun said.
Shippers including Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. of Decatur, Illinois, use the river to float an estimated $2.8 billion of cargo, including grain, coal and fertilizer, during a typical January, according to the American Waterways Operators, which also is based in Arlington.
Minneapolis-based Cargill, which owns grain elevators, cocoa processing plants, slaughterhouses, steel-service centers and ethanol refineries, is the largest closely held company in the U.S. and one of the world’s biggest agricultural traders.