Come to the Missouri fish fry
By Trent Loos
I will admit that there is a degree of irony in attending a "fish fry" in Missouri but the end result was tremendous. Why the irony? Here goes. AGRI Services decided to host the first-ever customer appreciation event last week on a Saturday night in their home town of Brunswick and they were serving fish. The irony is that it is a fish that has given everyone involved in the Missouri River region all the challenges they have needed for quite some time. While the troubling fish is called a pallid sturgeon, we were enjoying catfish on this night of celebration.
"At some point we as Americans will wake up to the fact that we have got a natural, highly efficient navigation system here that comes right up through the heart of the country. More importantly, it comes right up through our Corn Belt and our crop production area where a lot of meat and poultry is produced. It is where the feed for meat and poultry is produced and we are not doing a good job of taking care of this natural resource." These wise words were from Bill Jackson, general manager of AGRI Services of Brunswick. Who could argue that?
Over 200 years ago Thomas Jefferson understood the importance of the "Northwest Passage." He may have incorrectly thought that the body of water extended to the Pacific Ocean and we could export products to Asia but he knew how valuable passage was. That might have worked had it not been for the Rocky Mountains in the way. However, this clearly assisted our nation in laying the foundation of strength as the great resource-providing country due to the efficient transportation on the river.
It truly is an interesting time in our nation's history as earlier this year Ohio Representative Bob Gibbs, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment (part of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure), spoke in a hearing on April 18 about government failures. "Deferred maintenance resulting from budget constraints on the U.S. Corps of Engineers increases the likelihood of a calamity befalling the system," he said.
"If improvements aren't made, it could doom the country's inland water system and that would be a costly bit of negligence because water transportation is a vital cog in our economy."
"Water transportation is the most fuel-efficient, least polluting, safest, and least expensive means of moving cargo." Gibbs said.
Now what is interesting about that is the political forces-that-be got to work right away trying to "fact check" Gibbs's statement and prove him wrong. Lo and behold they had to admit in public that his statements were spot on. While barge transportation is dependent on either rail or truck at some point, there is absolutely no more efficient way to move large volumes than with river transportation.
Here is what I see as the problem. We have all of the special interest groups who want to weigh in on the ecosystem but they simply want to look at one piece of the puzzle. A healthy ecosystem does not mean you forgo all other living things to protect one. OK, so the pallid sturgeon is not keeping up with the times. Neither did the dinosaur. Furthermore, any living thing that does not reproduce more than once every 10 years does not have good odds for survival regardless of how you do the math.
Healthy river transportation is about enabling the greatest diversity possible within that ecosystem but no one animal or fish should be above the importance of the end result and that is the healthy human ecosystem. I don't believe we should worry only about the humans and everything else be damned. We need as much diversity as possible while managing the resources to the best of our abilities and improving human lives as we move forward.
A healthy river transportation system is not just about promoting the economy of the Missouri farmer or farmer from any state. Actually, it is about managing all the resources so that the farmer may improve as many human lives as possible globally by delivering much needed food, fiber, pharmaceuticals and fuel.
Thankfully we have champions for the river transportation cause all up and down the waterway. None has given more time and effort toward sharing that message than Bill Jackson from Brunswick and for that, Bill, we say thank you and please pass the tartar sauce.
Editor's note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.