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Wisconsin farmers discuss funding increase for river infrastructure

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – Wisconsin Corn Growers met with local representatives to discuss the need for lock and dam improvements on the Mississippi River.

River cities like La Crosse create over 26,000 jobs in Wisconsin. Dresbach Lock and Dam Number Seven is one of those ports that works as a passageway for cargo like fertilizer, soybeans and corn.

“We depend on the river to bring fertilizers up so we can grow our crop to feed cows and make milk for people to eat cheese and butter,” dairy farmer Ben Augustine said. “It’s all about the pennies and it’s always about the bottom dollar. If you can get it cheaper coming up the river, you’re going to do it. It’s just basic economics.”

The Army Corps of Engineers manages port infrastructure and said they would like an increase in funding from the usual $2 billion they receive from Congress annually–in order to improve lock and dams that were built in the 1930s.

Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin said congress has shelved the issue for lock and dam systems far too long, and that systems like Lock and Dam Number Seven need an update so farmers can get the profit they work hard for.

“They have not been adequately funded to upgrade the locks and dams on this river and we’re long overdue for deferred maintenance,” Senator Baldwin said. “If we don’t, it impacts commerce and certainly hurts our farmers in a year that they can ill-afford a challenge.”

The plan includes adding seven locks along the Mississippi River allowing for double the number of barges to transport goods through the country. Farmers know improved river transportation means easier access to necessary agricultural markets.

“One barge moves 1,050 semis,” Augustine said. “That’s a lot of traffic that the river is taking off of our roads and not hurting our road system and infrastructure.”

Wisconsin corn representatives say that barges transport about 30 million tons of crops each ear. Senator Baldwin said next she’ll advocate for an increase funding when the senate is back in session in Washington D.C.

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Marcus Aarsvold

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