As we enter harvest season, the Mississippi and Ohio rivers are experiencing low water levels, for a second straight year. These low water levels have the potential to hinder and cause challenges for those that ship via these waterways.

The Mississippi and Ohio rivers are known as major U.S. freight hubs for moving coal, oil, natural gas, chemicals and commodities.

Key points:

  • Low water levels on the Mississippi river and the impact it has on shipping
  • Will the low water levels impact harvest season?

Water Levels on the Mississippi River

What happens when water levels on rivers fall?

When water levels dip, it has the potential to hinder shipping on the water, thus increasing transportation costs. Additionally, per Transport Topics, the barges at times have to be loaded with less cargo which helps them to keep ‘riding high’ to avoid snagging at the bottom.

For context, a single river barge (fully loaded), can haul as many as 16 railcars or 70 semi-trucks.

“We’re starting off this year low and pretty dry,” says David Welch, a Hydrologist at the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center. But traffic is continuing on the Mississippi River.

The water levels on the Mississippi River System have been falling since June. Per the Grain Transportation Report from the Department of Agriculture, precipitation is projected to be lower-than-normal, and water levels are expected to continue to fall in the coming weeks.

Additionally, barge supply has been tightened since more barges than normal are required to ship the same amount of grain, per the Grain Transportation Report. With this tight supply, it has caused barge spot rates to increase.

Will This Impact Harvest Season?

Some liken the outlook of this years harvest season, to the one like last year – which saw historic low water levels on the Mississippi.

“Harvest and the concomitant export season is “game time” for farmers and the entire agricultural industry,” says Mike Steenhoek, the Executive Director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.

Steenhoek continues, “during this period, we need our supply chain, including the Mississippi River, to be operating at full capacity. The current low water conditions are therefore clearly a cause for concern.”

As of now, there may be some type of impact on harvest season though the extent is yet to be determined and can certainly change. As Steenhoek said in a statement, the Soy Transportation Coalition will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates when applicable.

Looking Ahead

Should you have any questions regarding this and how it could impact your shipments, please reach out to our team today.

Additionally, we have our weekly market updates that can provide you with relevant freight news, updates, developments across the industry, and more.





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