The low level of the Mississippi is causing problems with shipping and threatens to have major impacts

Low water levels on the Mississippi threaten supply chain disruptions.

Historically low water levels are slowing shipping on the Mississippi River, affecting people and economies worldwide. These barges carry a significant percentage of US wheat, corn and soybean exports from the country’s farms.

The Mississippi is a major waterway for hauling crops, and with water levels so low, boat traffic has been reduced by nearly half. Drought conditions in the Midwest have lowered the Mississippi River’s water level to its worst depth since the late 1980s. Lower water levels make moving the barges downriver more expensive and slower. This is a headache for farmers and other industries that rely on waterways to transport their goods.

The Mississippi River is critical to the U.S. — and global — supply chain.

The Mississippi is the main route for America’s breadbasket to the world, responsible for $400 billion in industry and 1.3 million jobs. According to Jonathan Dunn, who works for one of the country’s largest ship operators, they would normally operate around 46 to 50 large motor boats, but now they are around 25 – a drastic reduction. When the shipping price goes up, the value of the goods goes down. The price will eventually trickle down to consumers.

America still uses barges to transport goods like soybeans, oil, corn, and fertilizer because it’s cheaper. A barge can hold the same amount as 16 wagons and 70 articulated lorries. A barge can travel five times farther than a truck on a gallon of gas. Dennis Wilmsmeyer, executive director of America’s Central Port, said there are limitations on the types of materials that trucks, freight trains and other methods of transportation can move, making barges the most efficient method of moving bulk cargo.

Lower water levels drive up transport costs for barges.

The cost of barge transportation has increased dramatically due to the Mississippi River’s low water levels and depth restrictions. Each barge is only loaded to about 75 percent of its total capacity, limiting volume. Barges that are normally 12-14 feet deep are now restricted to 9 feet. That means a lot of dead cargo, which makes the marketplace very expensive.

There are currently many barges of soybeans, corn and rice waiting to come down the river for weeks. Plastics, fertilizers, oils cannot go upstream. The low water levels have caused some barges to run aground, further delaying shipping traffic. To improve the situation, the US Army Corps of Engineers is dredging some parts of the river to deepen channels and open up shipping. Ultimately, it is up to Mother Nature to raise the water level along the inland waterways.

In summary, historic low water levels on the Mississippi are slowing barges and driving up shipping costs, which will impact consumers.

Until inland shipping picks up again, shippers and farmers will continue to bear the brunt of high rates. At this point, the river needs rain to return to normal levels, which will increase shipping traffic, lower rates and give farmers the opportunity to export their crops. If America cannot move down the Mississippi River, one of our greatest waterways, prices will rise for farmers and eventually consumers.

Leave a Comment