The Problems that Persist Along the Mississippi River System for Grain and Ag Freight

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Over the past two years, low river levels along the Mississippi River system have had a negative impact on farmers and ag businesses here at home. Those issues may continue for many more years if they’re not addressed.

Jason Selking, Regional General Manager with Consolidated Grain and Barge, addressed the ongoing issues with grain and ag shipments along the Mississippi River system during a presentation this week at the Agribusiness Council of Indiana (ACI) Regional Meeting in Shelbyville.

He says the issue hasn’t been along the Ohio River, but several hundreds of miles away.

“The Lower Mississippi River is where we saw issues,” according to Selking. “While we have the locks and dams on the Ohio River, on the Lower Mississippi River, they lack those, so they do not benefit from the same management of river levels and are prone to more issues with low water events than we are along the Ohio River.”

Because of those issues, Selking says it’s created a ripple effect for grain and ag freight.

“Those issues caused smaller size tows—from 42 barge tows down to a small as 25 barge tows, which further restricts the speed and the velocity that grain can move along the Inland River System on its way to export,” says Selking. “That further compounds things for our American farmers as that causes a slowdown and an inability to take grain for export from them while they are in their middle of their harvest as it was happening during the last two years.”

That reduced capacity has caused price fluctuations for grain and other ag products.

Selking suggests that dredging continue along the Lower Mississippi River as a preventative measure.

“To the degree we can, it would be wonderful if we could start a preventative or predictive dredging program so that annually in those trouble spots that have been identified or where there have been issues in the last two seasons, it would be wonderful if we could preemptively dredge those sections of the Mississippi River to maintain adequate transit opportunities.”

Jason Selking, Regional General Manager of Consolidated Grain & Barge. Photo: C.J. Miller / Hoosier Ag Today.

What message does Selking have for farmers?

“I would certainly suggest that farmers take the opportunity while we have good river levels and while we are not pricing in extremely high barge freight levels as a result of low water because they’re not here today,” he says. “If farmers can find those opportunities, I would recommend they take the opportunity to price ahead their grain in times that they would be advantageous to them.”

He adds that your lawmakers on Capitol Hill should be made aware of these ongoing issues with the Mississippi River system because of the negative impacts that have been felt back home, as well as to fund projects to install locks and perform ongoing dredging of the Mississippi River to prevent further slowdowns in case of continued lower water levels.

“As a whole, we need to continue to as agriculture to be advocates of ourselves,” says Selking. “As large users of the Inland River System, we should be advocating for policies that would be advantageous to the grain flow as it is sent for export.”

 

 

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