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  • Brianna Ruiz

Drought in the Mississippi River Causing Concern

Yet another obstacle has risen to challenge the supply chain and this time it’s a drought in the Mississippi River. Regions of the river spanning from Illinois to St. Louis and beyond have been experiencing a drought at levels that have not been recorded in over a decade. The river has hit a low of 10.77 feet which has not been seen since 2012, other parts of the river have not seen these levels since 1988. These alarmingly low levels are not permitting barges to go through as they normally would. At one point in the last 2 weeks there was a barge jam backup of an estimated 2,253 barges at a halt waiting to get the okay to go on through.

The Mississippi River transports everything from steel, aluminum, fertilizer, road salt, and their biggest sector, agricultural products. The river is responsible for helping transport 92% of the country’s agricultural exports. With this major backup during peak harvest season, those in the industry are desperate to get their products through. Companies are paying a skyrocket premium to move their goods whether it be by truck or train, but these are no cheap alternatives.

Stated on the American Commercial Barge Line website, the industry has agreed to a 25-barge max tow when the industry norm used to be 40. To put things into perspective, one barge is equivalent to 70 semi-trucks or 16 rail cars. A 15-barge tow which is still under the industry agreement, is equivalent to 216 railcars and 1,050 semi-trucks. Other modes simply do not compete with the capacity that barges can haul which has led it to be the most cost efficient especially when it comes to agriculture. But, because of the new conditions the drought has brought, shipping by barge is no longer as cost efficient as it once was. Producers are now forced to either store their product or pay record high shipping rates and push the burden of transportation of these bulk loads to the truck and rail industry.

“While the public and media generally understand that our economy depends on international ocean shipping, trucking and rail transportation, the vital role of our inland waterways is overlooked,” said Peter Friedman, executive director of the Agricultural Transportation Coalition. “Our members depend on adequate water levels in the river system Mississippi, to reach domestic and international export markets. The lower water disruption in the supply chain will be felt not only by our U.S. producers of food, farms, and fiber, but also by U.S. and international consumers.”

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