U.S. Wheat Informs Overseas
by Matthew Weaver
Columbia and Snake River dams to get new lock gates
U.S. Wheat Associates are working with customers overseas to prepare for the closure of the Columbia and Snake River barge system later this year.
Beginning in December, the Portland and Walla Walla districts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will replace the downstream lock gates at the John Day, The Dalles and Lower Monumental dams.
The closure also allows other repairs at those locks at the same time. The closure will last until about mid-March of 2011.
Steve Mercer, U.S. Wheat director of communications, said his organization is talking with customers on behalf of producers in the Pacific Northwest.
The organization is discussing the reasons for and the logistics behind the closure, meeting with customers on an individual basis to cover specific needs and suggestions, Mercer said.
A series of crop-quality seminars held annually each fall also provided more information about the situation, particularly to customers in Asia and the Pacific Rim, he said.
In general, U.S. Wheat Associates is suggesting that soft white wheat will be most impacted, due to the closure's effect on movement down the rivers to Portland, the largest port.
Customers are advised to consider their storage ability and purchasing habits, in effort to get as much soft white wheat as possible before the closure. At least one customer overseas has already increased the amount of soft white wheat it purchases, Mercer said.
Hard red winter, hard red spring and hard white wheat customers may want to wait until after the closure to receive their products, he said.
"They can still get their wheat, they're just going to have to change their cadence a little bit," he said.
This year's increase of soft white wheat grown in Oregon's Willamette Valley, with about 200,000 acres planted, is an encouraging sign, Mercer said, because it will be trucked to Portland.
"That will help overcome some of the logistical issues that might arise," he said.
The organization is confident any trade disruption will be minimized, Mercer said.
"Getting it done all at once I think is a smart move," he said, noting the investment made by the government and stakeholders ensures the system will continue to work for everyone.
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