Farm Bureau pushes for port improvementsLegislation to fund improvements to U.S. ports and waterways is getting a big push from farm advocates.

The Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation is conducting a campaign called “The Heat is On” to convey to members of Congress the importance of waterway and port infrastructure improvements, the farm bill and agricultural labor reform.

Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups have been pushing for Congress to pass the Waterways Resources Reform and Development Act. The legislation has cleared the Senate and awaits a floor vote in the House of Representatives, said Andrew Walmsley, director of Congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, The recent government shutdown and the debate over the debt ceiling will delay consideration of the legislation in the House, which had originally been expected by mid-October.

“We’re still fairly positive about the legislation; this is something that Congress can come back and pass,” he said Oct. 4

Walmsley said the Waterways Resources Reform and Development Act legislation aims to bring U.S. ports up to par with those of Canada’s Port of Vancouver and other international ports.

Farm Bureau wants more money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be used for port improvement, he said. That program is funded by an ad valorem tax on each container that comes into this country, totaling about $1.5 billion per year, Walmsley said.

Only about half of that fund is spent each year on port improvements or dredging, he said. The other half is being siphoned off to help fund the federal government, he said.

“We should really use this money like it was intended to be and not let it be siphoned off,” Walmsley said.

The Senate bill ratchets up required spending on port infrastructure from the Harbor Maintenance Fund $100 million each year until about 2020, when all of the ad valorem funds collected on U.S.-bound containers will be used for port improvements.

Walmsley said members of Farm Bureau’s Trade Advisory Committee visited the ports of Seattle, Portland and Oakland in recent weeks.

Beyond its push for the Waterways Resources Reform and Development Act, Farm Bureau has joined with the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports to voice support for three proposed multi-commodity export terminal projects in the Pacific Northwest, according to a news release from the group.

The proposed port expansion projects, located in Cherry Point and Longview, Wash., and Boardman, Ore., will support thousands of jobs while boosting Northwest export capacity, according to the release.