ARSENAL ISLAND -
Longtime Rock Island County farmer Tom Mueller knows a lot about growing and shipping crops. But the aging Lock and Dam system is motivating him and fellow corn growers to press for long-term upgrades along the Mississippi River.
"We know that they need to be improved," he said, during a Barge Tour on Friday, August 4. "But now we need appropriations. We need to get something done."
While the Mississippi River is a waterway to the world for American-grown grain, farmers like Mueller are eyeballing potential disaster for the ag economy without changes.
"If we have something catastrophic happen at one of these locks, there's no detour," Mueller continued. "This is a one-lane road."
Illinois and Iowa corn growers hosted the fact-finding tour along the Mississippi. Lock and Dam 15 is showing the wear-and-tear. It's part of the aging, outdated system that dates back to the 1930"s,
"Almost like a farmer using some duct tape and bailing wire to keep things going," Mueller said.
While the current federal budget shortchanges waterways, participants argue that this crumbling infrastructure is really a national responsibility. Something that's essential to maintain as a driver in the global economy.
Still, with chunks of wall missing and other problems, it could hamper American exports to the Gulf of Mexico.
"They've been kept up in operation by really some outstanding people," said Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch. "But it really comes down to now we've got to make some investments."
Fixing the system, participants say, will allow local farmers to stay ahead of international competition.
"When we can create new 1,200 foot locks, that will really secure a strong agriculture supply chain for years to come," said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, (D) Illinois.
But as plans for major improvements remain on hold, farmers worry that time is running out. They see foreign countries like Brazil threatening American exports without action.
A hobbled Mississippi River leaves farmers like Tom Mueller without choices.
"There's no getting around it," he concluded. "If there's a problem here, we're in trouble."