As a lifelong wheat farmer, I rely on the river for transportation of my grain crops, but I also enjoy recreational boating on slackwater reservoirs, as well as rafting the whitewaters of the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers. Like most people who live in the region, the river means many things to me.
I’ve grown used to the cyclical nature of this business. There are good years where the planets align to produce a bumper crop and bad years where you struggle to break even after expenses. In between there are regular, normal years that help balance everything out.
As farmers we do what we can to control what we can, and managing risk is key to success. One element that we have always been able to rely on has been our U.S. transportation system that we depend on to get our products to markets overseas.
As a farmer, my first preference is to use barges to move my crops. Barging is the most environmentally friendly way to move bulk cargoes like wheat, and the system is so efficient and reliable that we can know to the hour when our wheat will be picked up and moved over 350 miles downriver to the big export facilities. By using barges, we can avoid much of the rail and road congestion that occurs in the Columbia River Gorge.
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Similar to the cyclical nature of farming, calls for the removal of the dams seem to come and go with regularity. These dam busting proponents misrepresent information to support their extreme claims that the dams are outdated and unneeded, despite the fact that these dams produce renewable energy and move cargo like mine. And though fish runs have been improving for many years, activists continually twist the facts to make the Snake River dams seem unneeded or obsolete.
A common theme of their argument is that trucking and rail can easily absorb the cargo moved by barge. This is nonsense. In 2014 over 4 million tons of cargo moved by barge on just the Snake River, continuing the steady climb of commerce on the Snake since the recession hit in 2008. To say that we can easily add over 160,000 semis to the highway or more than 43,000 rail cars on the rail lines without any disruptions is way off base.
Barging wheat like mine from Idaho not only helps reduce road and rail congestion but also makes it possible for Northwest farming families to compete in competitive global markets. The four Snake River dams offer us a reliable, efficient, environmentally friendly transportation method. I invite those who think they can be easily replaced to meet a farmer and learn what it takes for us to make it in this industry, and how much we value our U.S. transportation system, including the navigation locks.
“Genesee” Joe Anderson has been farming since 1983. Anderson earned two bachelor’s of science degrees from the University of Idaho.