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US grain exports drop as Mississippi’s low water slows shipments

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data issued on Tuesday shows the serious impact that low water in the Mississippi River is having on agricultural shipments. Crops for export at Louisiana Gulf Coast terminals in the first week of October were at their lowest level in nine years. 

Since then, conditions have worsened.

Although the US Coast Guard and the US Army Corps of Engineers were able on the weekend to unblock several bottlenecks caused by groundings in the river, problems are quickly arising in other areas.

In Memphis, the river’s water level has dropped nearly 2 feet since Saturday and is forecast to fall another 2 feet by October 25.

The Ohio River, an important tributary of the Mississippi, is now also experiencing closures caused by groundings. Near where the Ohio meets the Mississippi, dredging is required but cannot be started until several grounded tows in the way are refloated. However, as continued dry weather is expected, the challenge to refloat the tows increases.

Because of the low water, barges are carrying less weight, vessels are towing fewer barges and grounded vessels are creating backups. All of this means less product is being shipped.

The USDA reported that, in the week ended October 6, 976,255 tonnes of corn, soybeans and wheat were inspected for export at the Mississippi River Gulf Coast. This is down 22% from the five-year average.

Kim Biggar

Kim Biggar started writing in the supply chain sector in 2000, when she joined the Canadian Association of Supply Chain & Logistics Management. In 2004/2005, she was project manager for the Government of Canada-funded Canadian Logistics Skills Committee, which led to her 13-year role as communications manager of the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council. A longtime freelance writer, Kim has contributed to publications including The Forwarder, 3PL Americas, The Shipper Advocate and Supply Chain Canada.
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