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Old River locks closing impacts farmers’ bottom lines (video)

August 30, 2022   WAFB-Baton Rouge

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POINTE COUPEE PARISH, La. (WAFB) - For the first time in 46 years, the Old River locks are being drained so they can be repaired.


“The only way for us to get our crops on the market is through the river,” Curt Engemann said.


Empty barges on the shallow Old River are stuck near Lettsworth, where grain is waiting to be loaded on them.


“One thing we have going for us in south Louisiana with the grain is being close to the export market. We get preyed on a little bit more than somebody in Iowa since we’re close to the ships, but if we can’t get into the ships...” Engemann said.


Fifty-five minutes away, Engemann harvests his soybeans, hoping for an easier way to get his grain to market.


In order for barges to get to farmers’ grain, they must go down the Atchafalaya River and back up the Mississippi River. Or farmers need to drive their grain to a different port 90 minutes away.


“It just costs a lot more, so the price they can offer will be much less,” Engemann said.


The added cost of taking crops the long way around means farmers make less money.


“For every bushel, if you get 50 cents less per case, we grow about 70,000 bushels of soybeans, that would be $35,000,” Engemann said.


The cost comes right out of his bottom line. He can’t pass the cost along to anybody.


“For most diversified farmers that have more than one crop it’s not affecting their whole operation but it can be a large part of it,” Engemann said.


The closure is set to last 75 days, which is during a major part of farmers’ harvest season.