Low river levels impacting farmers

WGEM News at Ten
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 5:33 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2023 at 5:32 PM CDT
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ADAMS COUNTY, Ill. (WGEM) - For the second year in a row, near record low river levels on the Mississippi River could spell trouble for local farmers.

The ongoing drought across the Midwest has the river running low from the Tri-States to the Gulf of Mexico.

The locks and dams keep the river more sustainable for barge traffic North of St. Louis. However, southern parts of the river are highly dependent on dredging to keep the navigation channel open.

Barge companies have already taken note and have reduced their loads. This means less grain overall is moved downriver every day.

Ursa Farmers Cooperative grain merchandiser Scott Meyer said the situation is serious, but it may not be as bad as last fall.

“Last year at this time we had upwards of 10% of the fleet that was overloaded with too deep of draft, they were caught in areas where they shouldn’t have been with low water. We had a 10-to-14-day closure at one time last year down on the river,” said Meyer.

Meyer said he believes last year’s conditions meant everyone knew what to expect this autumn.

“Everyone just seems a little bit more prepared. The dredging crews know where to dredge, where the problem areas are, the barge lines have reduced drafts sooner than they did last year,” said Meyer.

He said there is still some time for conditions to change before harvest season kicks into high gear.

“As harvest progresses, farmers have grain bins to fill on the farm. We have a lot of bins to fill here at the cooperative. So we’ve got three to four weeks before we’ll be really dependent upon the barges,” said Meyer.

Should conditions worsen, lighter barge loads would lead to more expensive exporting costs as well as longer wait times.

Meyer said farmers could use a nice balance of rain and dry time in the next few weeks. He said gradual rains would help keep the river levels high and would aid with post-harvest tilling. However, some dry time is still necessary for the harvest itself.

You can find the latest drought monitor updates here.

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