Mid-South agriculture could be adversely affected by federal budget cuts that would reduce funding for maintenance and improvements to the rivers, streams, and lakes under control of the U.S. Corps of Engineers in the Mississippi River Valley.

Whether it’s grain moving through river terminals to export, or gasoline/diesel coming in, or thousands of products that rely on the waterway system for efficient transport of bulk goods, the impact could be far-reaching and more costly, members of the Mississippi River Commission were told at a Greenville, Miss. hearing.

Beyond that, water areas that are heavily dependent on tourism and recreation dollars would also feel the pinch as funds for staffing and maintenance continue to ebb.

From a 2010 appropriation of $230 million, the 2011 fiscal year budget dropped to $136 million and the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2012 is projected at $121 million.

 “There will have to be compromises in what we can do,” said Col. Jeff Eckstein, district commander of the Corps’ Vicksburg, Miss., district. “The impact of these cuts will be felt across the board.”

Money for dredging “is pretty much not in the budget,” he said. There is “some money” to continue survey work, and there would be only enough funding to add “perhaps an item per year” of levee construction projects. The 17 Delta headwaters projects now under way would be completed, but no more design work would be ongoing.

At this point, Eckstein said, “there is no money” in the 2012 budget for the Upper Yazoo project. A Big Sunflower River project will be completed this year, “but there is no money in the 2012 budget for additional work.”

Representatives from numerous organizations and businesses told the commission panel that cutbacks in Corps services would be a significant economic detriment to the region.

“The Mississippi River system is the nation’s marine highway,” said Tommy Hart, director of the Port of Greenville.  “More than two-thirds of the nation’s grains and oilseed products are shipped on these waterways.

“Its continued maintenance and improvement are vital to our competitiveness and our security. This is one of the wisest uses of taxpayer dollars; it’s an investment that is repaid many times over.”

In the last two years, Hart said, there has been “a dramatic increase” in tonnage going through the Greenville port, “largely due to increased shipments of grains and steel.