October Agribusiness Blog

Low Mississippi River Water Levels Could Disrupt Grain Harvest Again

10/31/2023 Written by: Gina Ekstam

A shrinking Mississippi River is clogging a critical shipping artery for the second consecutive year and could leave farmers with limited options to transport grains as they enter the harvest season.

Back-to-back years of drought are forcing many farmers to opt for alternative modes of transportation to markets, while others have no choice but to use river barges, even as water levels continue to drop.

About 60 percent of U.S. grain exports are transported on the Mississippi River to ports on the Gulf of Mexico, with traditionally low transport prices allowing farmers to remain competitive with other countries despite higher labor and production costs. However, for the second consecutive year, a low Mississippi River is causing bottlenecks in a critical shipping route, leaving farmers with few options for grain shipments as we begin another harvest season.

As of October 3, 2023, river levels were about two feet lower than the same time last year, with an all-time record low stage last month at - 10.97 feet - a level so low that salt water has begun to infiltrate the river sparking a state of emergency with drinking water at risk of contamination.

Any current rainfall is almost entirely absorbed into the ground, worsening the risks and making issues worse than last year when barges ran aground, and spot freight prices soared to all-time highs.

This year, lower export sales and preemptive planning on the part of barge companies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could keep prices lower than last year; however, they are still running 115 percent over the three-year average.

More on this story here: How low Mississippi River water levels could disrupt grain harvests, again | Agriculture Dive

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