Farm Shipments delayed on the Mississippi River Due to the Flooding
USA – May 20, 2019
The Mississippi river, which runs nearly 2,350 miles from Minnesota’s Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, is a main conduit of shipping everything from agriculture products and construction material to petroleum and coal.
This year, though, there’s not much barge traffic over there . Historic spring flooding that swamped and tainted farmland, also left parts of the Mississippi closed for business.
The interruption is hitting an agriculture industry that’s already suffering from a plethora of ills, including the Trump administration’s trade disputes that have helped drive down commodity prices.
“You’ve got a perfect storm here,” said Kenneth Hartman Jr., who grows corn, soybeans, and wheat just south of Waterloo, Illinois. “It looks bad for us.”
Like other farmers in more than a dozen states in the Mississippi River basin, Hartman would normally be sending soybeans, corn and other grain harvested last fall down the river, where it would eventually be exported—likely to China. Meanwhile, shipments of fertilizer that normally travel up the river to communities from St. Louis to St. Paul, Minnesota, haven’t made it through.
Many of the locks and dams on the Mississippi that closed due to flooding that started in March have reopened, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t expect the river to be fully unimpeded until possibly June.
Even if the locks were open, “many of these barges wouldn’t be able to get here anyway,” said Sam Heilig, a Corps spokeswoman at Rock Island, Illinois. “Because the water’s so high, there’s not enough clearance to get under some of the bridges.”
The Missouri River has remained mostly navigable right up until it meets the Mississippi River at St. Louis, said James Rudy with the Corps’ Kansas City office. While that allows shipping from point-to-point, it still disrupts shipments from farmers in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri seeking to get their grain to exporters in the Gulf of Mexico, he said.
The interruption in river traffic has a domino effect on other industries, particularly in transportation. The National Waterways Foundation estimates that one 15-barge tow on the Mississippi River can ship as much as six locomotives pulling 216 railcars, or as much as 1,050 large semitrailers. It also costs less to ship via the river, because barges can hold so much more and be moved using less fuel.
“One of our Missouri River navigators notes that his business on the Missouri alone removes somewhere from 60,000 to 80,000 tractor-trailers off of I-70 every year,” Rudy said.