Work Continues on Southern Mississippi River to Improve Shipping

Work continues to lower the depth of the southern Mississippi River from 45 to 50 feet. Mike Steenhoek is the Executive Director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. He says the work continues on a 256-mile stretch between Baton Rouge, Louisiana, down past New Orleans and out to where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico,

“Yeah, there’s been a long aspiration to deepen the Lower Mississippi River, and this is the 256-mile stretch of the river that starts at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, goes past New Orleans, and then, eventually, empties into the Gulf of Mexico. This area accounts for 60 percent of U.S. soybean exports 59% of corn exports. So, it’s our number one export region and includes a lot of other industries which utilize that stretch of the river. It’s one of our key port regions, and so, there’s been this effort to deepen it from 45 feet of depth to 50 feet of depth.”

The work began in September 2020, and Steenhoek talks about why it’s necessary.

“Whenever you load an ocean vessel, one of the restrictions on how much freight you can put into that vessel, obviously, the size of the ocean vessel itself, but how much it sinks into the water before it scrapes the bottom. And so, when you deepen that channel, you can load more revenue-producing freight for an ocean vessel, and when you go from 45 feet of water depth to 50 feet of water depth, we estimate that you will be able to load an additional 500,000 bushels of soybeans per vessel, going from about 2.4 million bushels of soybeans to 2.9 million bushels of soybeans. And what that does is it just improves the economics of the delivery of soybeans and other commodities.”

It improves the cost per bushel for each overseas customer and makes the U.S. soybean industry more competitive. He talks about the dredging process.

“In this initial part of the dredging, what they do is they can scoop it from the bottom of the river. They have a long extension underneath the vessel that then sucks up the sediment, and then, one of the benefits of this particular project is then it deposits that sediment off to the side of the shipping channel, and what’s that’s doing is it’s replenishing some land that has eroded over the years in southern Louisiana, and it’s establishing more wetlands, bird habitat is increasing, so, not only does it have a favorable story to tell in terms of economics for industries like the soybean industry and others, but there’s a real environmental sustainability component of it as well.”

He says the workers don’t have to dredge the entire 256 miles of the Mississippi. It’s just certain areas where sediment builds up to the point that it has to get cleared. However, once the work is done, U.S. agriculture will notice the benefits.

“The good news is most of the export terminals that handle soybeans, corn, and other agricultural commodities are within that first 150 miles between the Gulf of Mexico and past New Orleans to, again, 150 miles of river, and so there will be a lot of these export facilities that will be able to benefit quite immediately from this additional water depth.”