From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
If I could control the weather I’d order up a good, long steady rain.
We need rain not just in Arkansas but up north in the watershed of the Ohio and Missouri Rivers, and of course the Mississippi River.
Drought has brought the river to historic lows, and that has been devastating for farmers.
The breakdown of navigation on the Mississippi River is yet another blow to farmers who have been impacted by supply chain disruptions.
First there were labor shortages caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Then the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused a breakdown in the production of fertilizers.
Russia is the world’s largest supplier of fertilizer, and Black Sea ports are under a blockade.
Now, we’re in the middle of a drought that has brought the river to its lowest level since 1988.
Barge traffic has come to almost a standstill. A typical 15-barge tow can carry the same amount of commodities as 225 rail cars or 1,050 trailer trucks.
Barge transport on the Mississippi River accounts for 92 percent of the nation’s agricultural exports.
The current water level at New Orleans is 52 percent lower than the three-year average.
That means barges cannot be loaded to capacity, and we’re seeing a 39 percent drop off in the amount of freight unloaded at New Orleans.
As a result, American farmers cannot meet contracts with foreign buyers, and farmers in other countries are taking advantage.
For example, the sale of soybeans by Brazilian farmers is at a record high.
Another impact on Arkansas farmers is that elevators along the river cannot ship commodities, so they are deterring producers by offering lower prices.
Alternatives are costly. According to analysts for the Farm Bureau who testified at a recent legislative committee, shipping freight by rail costs 10 times as much as shipping it on a barge, and shipping it by truck is roughly 16 times more expensive.
With no good solutions for transporting crops, producers are looking for alternative ways to store grain, until the river has freed up barge traffic.
Our farmers are resilient, we know that because they have survived tough times before. Legislators cannot make it rain, but we can help with tax incentives and loan forgiveness programs.
This is an issue that affects everyone, and this is a challenge we can overcome by working together.
On one final note, remember that the general election is Tuesday, so please vote and encourage friends and family to vote.
Early voting sites are open during the day on Friday, Saturday and Monday.
There are close races and important ballot issues to be decided, so please don’t sit this one out.
Choosing our government is our right as Americans. Men and women who serve in the armed forces might even say it’s our duty, so please, get out and vote.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.