Grain Traffic Slows as Drought Hits Mississippi

October 16, 2022

Scenes like we saw in Europe and China over the summer now appearing on the Mighty Mississippi, as water levels are at 70 year lows.


The water in the Mississippi River has dropped so low that barges are getting stuck, leading to expensive dredging and at least one recent traffic jam of more than 2,000 vessels backed up.

The Mississippi River Basin produces nearly all – 92% – of US agricultural exports, and 78% of the global exports of feed grains and soybeans. The recent drought has dropped water levels to alarmingly low levels that are causing shipping delays, and seeing the costs of alternative transport, such as rail, rise.

In Vicksburg, western Mississippi, residents have seen less than an inch of rain since the start of September.

The mayor, George Flaggs, told WAPT-TV that the river was lower than he had seen it in nearly 70 years.

“It’s definitely having an impact on the local economy because the commercial use of this river has almost stopped,” Flaggs said.

Last Friday, the US Coast Guard said that there was a backup of more than 2,000 barges at various points, Bloomberg reported. The halted barges were carrying recently harvested corn and soybeans. 

“When the water gets low enough, commerce starts to slow – commerce is restricted, and it turns into an extremely difficult environment to operate,” Austin Golding, president of Golding Barge Line, told WAPT-TV.

“This will actually affect us in a very negative way. We have to have less cargo on our barges and less tonnage moving. It affects our revenues.”

Hesaid shippers had been forced to limit the amount of cargo – including grain, oil and rocks – that their barges can carry in order to safely move across the low water levels.


Tower Rock – a massive island in the middle of the Mississippi River south of St. Louis – is typically surrounded by water and only accessible by boat. But as severe drought spreads across the Midwest and pushes river levels to near-record lows, people can now reach the rock formation on foot.

“The river has dropped low enough that you can walk over to Tower Rock and not get your feet wet or muddy,” Missouri resident Jeff Biget told CNN. “I only remember being able to do this one other time in my life.”

Photos taken by Biget show people hiking across the rocky river bed to the island tower – a trek that poses little risk in the near-term as water levels are expected to continue to drop for at least the next two weeks.


One Response to “Grain Traffic Slows as Drought Hits Mississippi”

  1. redskylite Says:

    “While we understand it needs to be done, is it sustainable? I suspect that as long as (there is) the will and desire to continue to provide flood safety and drinking water availability, we will move forward as a country to provide this, but it’s going to be increasingly challenging due to the pressures of climate change and sea level rise.”

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