Barge Traffic on Rivers Slow As River Levels Sink

By Benjamin Cox on October 5, 2022 at 6:04am

Portions of the Mississippi River have water levels are the lowest they have been in a decade. The water levels are causing trouble to farmers and shippers who move grain down the river at harvest.

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that normally, tows are able to move 36 barges at a time. With the water level so low, shippers have voluntarily agreed to cut that to 25 barges.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Transportation Report released Thursday said that 1,890 grain barges have unloaded in New Orleans since Sept. 1, about 39% fewer than the five-year average.

Mike Steenhoek with the Soy Transportation Collation told RFD Illinois the low water levels are making it more expensive to move grain and other freight at the height of harvest: “It’s placing an upward pressure on costs, on barge rates. We’ve seen over the period of the year a 41% increase in barge rates according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

The National Weather Service in St. Louis says nearly all of the Mississippi River basin has seen below average rainfall for the past month. The extended forecast says that warmer dry weather will persist through the month.