December 9, 2023
Low levels of America's largest river threaten crop runoff

Low levels of America’s largest river threaten crop runoff

US farmers worry about low Mississippi River threatening summer crop runoff this year | Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP/Metzull Meteorology

Mississippi River levels have dropped to levels not seen in years after a long period of bad rainfall, affecting river traffic to the Gulf of Mexico, an important route for the US economy and exports.

According to data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the depth of the Legend River in Memphis, Tennessee, is the lowest it has been since it began publishing data on the area in 2011. This situation is due to the lack of rain in the places where the Missouri River, one of the main tributaries of the Mississippi, flows, especially in the states of Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers conducted an emergency excavation. “Now is a very difficult time to harvest. “It’s a really bad time to have this severe low water level,” lamented Deb Calhoun, vice president of the Waterways Council, an organization that promotes the management of rivers, dams and locks.

The winter wheat harvest ended in early August, and the corn harvest is in full swing, which, as it does every year, increases the quantities to be transported. According to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), at least two-thirds of the grain exported by sea from the United States comes through the Mississippi.

A barge can carry the equivalent of 15 rail cars and 60 semi-trailers, according to American Waterways Operators, which represents the industry. “This time of year you can usually see 40 or more boats lined up, being towed by a tugboat,” Calhoun says. “But now there are 24 or 25 at once, depending on the size of the river,” he adds.

“Now, we are waiting for the rains to come,” he said. Some rain is expected in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi this weekend. “Lower Mississippi River levels will clearly affect exports,” warned Virginia McGathey of McGathey Commodities Group.

According to the USDA, the cost of transporting agricultural products by barge has quadrupled since the end of August. “With these prices, we’re taking ourselves out of the export market,” said Michael Zusolo of Global Commodity Analytics and Consulting, who says corn has been hit hard as barge traffic has halved.