Agriculture Wants Jones Act Waiver

The American Farm Bureau Federation has joined a coalition of agriculture groups in sending a letter to President Bush requesting a temporary waiver of the "Jones Act," a section of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920.

The coalition letter urges a Jones Act waiver for agricultural products, which would provide additional transportation capacity for moving U.S. grains and oilseeds to ports in the Southeastern regions of the nation.

The coalition letter notes that a temporary waiver for agricultural products through the end of 2005 would assist in the post-Katrina recovery effort of ports and waterways by easing the burden on the already overtaxed U.S. transportation system.

Under the Jones Act, water transportation of goods between U.S. ports must be done by U.S.-flagged, U.S.-built, U.S.-crewed and U.S.-owned vessels. A limited number of such vessels are available for use by the agriculture industry, which makes their cost far higher than using foreign flag vessels.

The letter notes that without a waiver of the Jones Act, American farmers could be harmed, as traditional commodity buyers look to overseas suppliers, in an effort to avoid the current constraints of U.S. domestic transportation.

The timing of the request is critical, as the Agriculture Department recently pegged the current corn crop at 10.6 billion bushels and the soybean crop at 2.86 billion bushels ? the second largest on record. "This year's harvest will come on-line just as the export capacity hurt by Hurricane Katrina is beginning to recover," the letter said.

A similar request for a waiver of the Jones Act from the petroleum and gas industry was recently granted. That 30-day waiver expires Sept. 19, 2005.