Drought’s bringing barges to a halt on southern stretches of the dehydrated Mississippi River, where bottlenecks and backups are stymying shipments of critical commodities.
This new supply chain snafu is showing up due to a dry summer, and is expected to hurt farmers and food prices alike.
The shipping snarl is kind of a big deal: 60% of U.S. corn, soybean, and wheat exports set sail from Gulf Coast ports off of the Mississippi River.
But how bad is it? 1,600 barges are waiting to pass through Lake Providence, La. Meanwhile, Stack Island, Miss., and Memphis, Tenn., are also seeing logjams. Since Sept. 1, 40% fewer barges have been unloaded in New Orleans.
In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is dredging parts of the river. But without substantial rain, future shipping remains at risk approaching the busiest grain export period of the year.
Costs rise: As the waterline sinks, the price to move goods rises. The St. Louis barge rate for export grain is up 95% from the five-year average. And those set on sailing are reducing the cargo load per barge so they can sit higher on the water.
Companies are paying a premium to switch from transport by barge to rail and truck. The cost of this can be up to five times more.
How low will it go? In this much less fun game of limbo, all eyes are on the skies to see how parched the river will get. So far, there’s no relief in the forecast.