Mississippi River stakeholders urge U.S. to elevate food security as a priority policy issue

Published 12:05 am Saturday, May 21, 2022

ST. LOUISMayors of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative, the Soy Transportation Coalition, and the Port of South Louisiana held a virtual press conference on May 19 to urge U.S. policymakers to promote food security issues to a higher priority.

Intersecting impacts from the Ukraine War, climate stress, geopolitical shifts in energy production and global supply chain disruptions are colluding to amplify food security considerations. Joining the group to offer insight on these current issues and discuss U.S. food stability was Scott Gerlt, economist for the American Soybean Association.

“The global commodity supply chain and manufacturing economy is the largest economy on the Mississippi River influencing the competitiveness of most of our cities along the entire 10-state corridor and larger 31-state Mississippi River Basin,” explained Errick Simmons, mayor of Greenville, Mississippi and MRCTI co-chair. “My city, in the heart of the Mississippi River Delta, faces food insecurity every day. We are here to move beyond the rhetoric and outline for our policymakers the facts on the ground and recommendations for addressing food security through 2022 and into 2023.”

“Despite many unique challenges right now in the food supply chain—including war, weather and trade policy—the U.S. is fortunate to have plentiful food production. Yet, ensuring free trade around the globe is critical for maintaining international food security,” said Scott Gerlt, chief economist for the American Soybean Association.

Economic policy is not the only consideration in understanding and addressing food security issues. Both natural and built infrastructure implicate the planet’s food web just as much, if not more that economic guidance.

“It is imperative for the United States to ensure our food delivery system is as efficient and reliable as possible – particularly during such a period of global uncertainty.  American farmers have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to produce safe, healthy, and affordable food for domestic and international customers, but we need to have a transportation system that can effectively connect supply with demand.  Maintaining and improving our roads, bridges, railroads, inland waterways, and ports must continue to be one of our nation’s highest priorities,” urged Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.

“My city is in the nation’s No. 2 agriculture state. It is imperative we keep our commodity system reliable to control inflation, stabilize the supply chain, and build resilience to prolonged and future shocks,” stated Brad Bark, mayor of Muscatine, IA and only city on the Mississippi River with a sister city in Ukraine. “We need to ensure the newly passed Bi-Partisan Infrastructure Package creates new investment in the conservation and ecological restoration of our inland waterway system to improve soil health and sustain production capacity into the future. We also need to ensure the 2022 Water Resources Development Act includes ecosystem restoration and built infrastructure resilience for the commodity supply chain.”

Beyond transportation and economic repercussions, the logistical capacity to protect trade is significant and has a baring on national security.

“The Port of South Louisiana is the leading grain exporter and the second largest port by volume in the nation. The ports of the Mississippi River support a $164 billion commodity export economy. Collectively, we continue to send product to Ukraine to bolster their food security as much as possible, but these operations impact trade at a global level and implicate American economic prosperity. Thus, the Mississippi River Corridor and its infrastructure should be considered in the Administration’s forthcoming National Security Strategy,” advised Paul Matthews, chief executive officer for the Port of South Louisiana.