60% of America’s Grain Exports Affected
An extreme drought and unseasonably warm fall have led to critically low water levels in the Mississippi River, causing major concerns for farmers who rely on the river to transport their crops. The United States Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for maintaining the river’s navigability, has been working tirelessly to dredge the river and restore water levels to normal. However, the situation remains dire.
According to the USDA, approximately 60% of America’s grain exports depend on the Mississippi River to reach the Gulf Coast. This includes essential commodities such as soybeans, corn, and wheat. The economic impact of the river’s historically low water levels and subsequent supply chain disruptions is estimated to be around $20 billion, as reported by AccuWeather.
Continued Drought Predictions
The National Weather Service warns that the drought causing these low water levels is expected to persist well into the following year. This prediction raises concerns among farmers who fear a lack of improvement heading into January, a crucial month for grain deliveries.
Intensive Efforts to Restore Water Levels
The United States Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis has been tirelessly employing dredging operations to mitigate the situation. The Dredge Potter, likened to a large vacuum cleaner, is deployed to the riverbed to extract sediment and discharge it outside the navigation channel. Despite these efforts, some areas of the river continue to hover well below the ideal river level of 15 feet, as measured by their St. Louis gauge.
Impacts on Barge Traffic and Farmers
The low water levels have also had a significant impact on barge traffic. Barges can now only carry half the usual capacity, leading to reduced efficiency and increased costs. Grain workers and farmers alike are feeling the repercussions. Nick Morietta, manager of Gateway FS Grain Facility, explains that under normal circumstances, their barges could hold 80 trucks or 80 thousand bushels of grain, but now, with the low water levels, their capacity is severely limited.
Rich Guebert, a farmer located south of St. Louis, expresses his concerns about the drought’s impact on his crops and profits. The inability to deliver grain means a loss of income and an inability to fulfill financial commitments.
A Wider Picture: Drought Conditions
The drought affecting the Mississippi River is part of a larger pattern across the United States. As of November 28, 2023, the U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 30.28% of the country, including Puerto Rico, is experiencing drought conditions. In the lower 48 states specifically, this figure rises to 36.05%.
The situation remains challenging, and the efforts of the United States Army Corps of Engineers are crucial in restoring the Mississippi River’s water levels and ensuring the viability of the agricultural and shipping industries that rely on it.