The president of the American Farm Bureau Federation visited Lewiston Wednesday voicing his opposition to breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

Zippy Duvall toured Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River, seeing locks that make it possible for barges to travel between Portland, Ore., and Lewiston and salmon ladders that help fish on their journey back from the ocean to spawn.

“It just does not make sense to even think about tearing out dams that are providing jobs and that are making farmers here in this area competitive on the world market and being friendly to wildlife,” said Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Alabama.

Wheat raised on the Camas Prairie and Palouse is barged to Portland where it is loaded onto oceangoing vessels bound for overseas customers. Barging is significantly less expensive than hauling grain with trucks or trains.

“We at American Farm Bureau are going to do everything we can to make sure the people of this country, the congressmen and senators and administration in Washington, know the resource that we have out here,” he said during a presentation at the Port of Lewiston.

Duvall’s trip to north central Idaho and southeastern Washington comes months after U.S. Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican, proposed a $33 billion plan to breach the four lower Snake River dams to help threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. Breaching advocates point to research such as a recent analysis by the Nez Perce Tribe showing wild spring chinook and wild steelhead populations in the Snake River Basin are on downward trends that could lead to extinction if not reversed.

Simpson’s plan contains billions of dollars to mitigate the impact of breaching, including $3.75 billion earmarked for farmers, agricultural cooperatives, ports in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and the Tri-Cities, and barging companies.

That incentive doesn’t appear to have swayed farmers.

Duvall was joined by dozens of individuals from the agriculture industry on his visit, including Joe Anderson, a Potlatch area farmer, and Columbia Grain President and CEO Jeff Van Pevenage.

If the dams were breached, some farms would survive, but others might not, Anderson said.

“We’ve seen a lot of consolidation over the years, and I’m not sure that’s been altogether good for the industry,” he said. “It hasn’t been altogether that good for rural communities.”

Columbia Grain and the farmers it serves rely on slack water to help transport food to families around the world, Van Pevenage said.

Like Duvall, he and his company are against breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

“Columbia Grain believes in maintaining a healthy salmon population, but it does not believe removing the dams is the correct course of action. What will happen … is farmers will be paying more.”

Asked if anything could happen with fish that might convince farmers to consider breaching, Van Pevenage said no.

Barging and trucking fish to help get them to the ocean, improving fish ladders at the dams and research into even more improvements to help get fish through the dams are among the measures the agricultural industry supports, he said.

“It’s not necessarily the dams that are causing problems,” he said. “It’s nature. It’s the ocean. It’s the weather. Things ebb and flow over time. It looks to me (like) the trend is really the salmon are okay.”

Duvall echoed Van Pevenage’s remarks.

The idea of breaching the dams to help fish is similar to a physician repairing someone’s ailing heart with a transplant, instead of medicine, he said.

If a fraction of the $33 billion in Simpson’s proposal were directed at research and development to remedy the challenges the fish are facing, the issue would be fixed, Duvall said.

“We don’t agree with the congressman, and we need to stop this and make sure we keep this lifeline for this community,” he said.

Alex McGregor, chairman of seed, fertilizer and equipment dealer the McGregor Company in Colfax, agreed, noting he believes it’s possible to have healthy rivers and a healthy economy.

“Let’s find ways to work together and get things done and stop with the brutal solutions that harm everyone and do no good,” he said.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.