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McClellan-Kerr Waterway Affects Ag

Without Oklahoma waterways and the navigational system, it would be impossible to get ag products overseas.
McClellan-Kerr Waterway Affects Ag

McClellan-Kerr Waterway Affects Ag

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Tulsa Port of Catoosa

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Oklahoma Exports to the World

Oklahoma Exports Feed the World

Oklahoma’s Port to the Sea

Show Details

Show 1438: McClellan-Kerr Waterway Affects Ag
Air Date: September 21, 2014



Rob McClendon: And our Alisa Hines recently visited the port and joins me now.

Alisa Hines: Normally, when we’re talking about water and agriculture, we talk about rain or drought, but there is another water that affects agriculture in Oklahoma, and it’s our waterways.

Alisa: Agriculture products go by truck – go further by train – but they go the farthest by water – primarily the McClellan-Kerr Waterway.

Jim Reese: Oklahoma grows $7 billion worth of ag products every year.

Alisa: Jim Reese is Oklahoma’s secretary of agriculture and says without the navigational system it would be impossible to get ag products overseas.

Reese: We use railroad, we use truck, but there’s not a railroad or truck that goes to our third largest trading partner, which is China. And so to get our grain to Asia, to Russia, to Japan, all of those outside foreign markets we have to go by water. You can’t take ’em by plane -- they’re too heavy, they’re too bulky -- and so water is the direct route. We use train, we use truck to get ’em here but the ultimate goal is to get ’em on the water and get ’em over to, for sale.

Alisa: According to Eric Kresin of Consolidated Grain and Barge, the waterway helps keep production costs low for ag producers.

Eric Kresin: McClellan-Kerr is important to Consolidated Grain and Barge for a couple of reasons. One, customers that we have all across the world that want to buy Oklahoma wheat come to the McClellan-Kerr, come to CGB, and say, “We want to buy your wheat.” And so the wheat is bought from the producers here in Oklahoma, shipped on this river system down to the Gulf of Mexico and then put on vessels that will either go to Central America, where there’s a lot of -- where our wheat has gone -- where they’ll grind and mill the wheat for bread products there. So without this river system, the producers in Oklahoma would not have a price competitive advantage to be growing and shipping wheat to the river. They might have to ship it to maybe Houston, Texas, or another wheat mill. So this is actually a price advantage for the grain.

Alisa: And it wouldn’t be possible without the United States’ farthest inland port, the Port of Catoosa. Port director Bob Portiss.

Bob Portiss: Agriculture has from day one, going back to 1973 when we built this grain elevator, has been one of the driving forces together with energy that’s made this port work, OK? Back in1973, we had everything coming in, and we had all these empty barges and nothing going out. So that was one of the impetuses if you will to build a grain elevator. The other thing was we opened up the farmers in Oklahoma and Kansas to the spring wheat market of New Orleans. Never before had we had access to that market.

Alisa: There definitely aren’t any empty barges now.

Portiss: So by 1976 we were moving 20 million bushels of grain through here. Unbelievable! And today, it’s not unusual in a good grain crop year to see our ports and our brethren downstream and ourselves move collectively a total of around 40 billion bushels. Isn’t that fantastic? So why does that happen? Is it just because of the New Orleans market? No, it’s the economics of barge transportation. You can put 60 truck loads of grain in a single barge – not unusual for us to move 12 barges at a time along this waterway out of this port. So think about that -- 60 times 12, 720 truck loads being pushed by a towboat that is 2,500 horsepower and a crew of eight. So, therefore -- a good friend of mine in Enid, Okla., by the name of Lew Meibergen loves to say we can move three bushels of grain to the Gulf by barge cheaper than you can buy a first-class postage stamp. But it just kind of illustrates the importance of the port to ag and ag to the port and to this waterway primarily and the history of this waterway. And as far as the future is concerned, in my opinion – Katie, bar the door.

Alisa: Tom Buchanan is president of Oklahoma Farm Bureau and says it’s imperative to have a facility like the port.

Tom Buchanan: It certainly gives us an opportunity to capture an additional price point so to speak on sale of commodity. But additionally the inputs that are brought upriver help us as we’re buying fertilizers and even steel to go back to the farm with. So this is a very integral part of modern production agriculture in Oklahoma.

Alisa: Now, Bob pointed out that when you use waterways, while you still have to truck the shipments to and from the port, most of those trips are day trips for truckers, making it where they can be home in the evenings with their families.

Rob: Now, I know when you went to cover this story there was a concern about a proposed ruling from the EPA concerning our waterways.

Alisa: The concern is about the word “nexus.” And what that word means is any stream or even a ditch that connects in some way to a navigable waterway could be listed as a navigable waterway, too, even if it doesn’t usually have water in it like many streambeds in Oklahoma.

Rob: So what’s happened since you were in Catoosa?

Alisa: Last week the House of Representatives passed the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act. This legislation prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing and enforcing a proposed rule that would redefine waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act or using the rule as a basis for future administrative actions saying it is the authority of Congress, not the administration, to change the scope of the Clean Water Act.

Rob: So what happens now?

Alisa: Well, like any piece of federal legislation it now goes over to the Senate where it’s unclear whether the House measure will even be brought to a vote by the Senate majority leader.

Rob: All right. Thank you so much, Alisa.

Alisa: You’re welcome, Rob.

Rob: Now, if you would like to learn more about McClellan-Kerr waterway that makes the Port of Catoosa possible, we have links to a video history of it streaming on our website at