It’s been another year of shipping delays along the Mississippi River, despite efforts to prevent last year’s problems.
Low water levels on the Mississippi River have slowed barge traffic and reduced loading capacity this harvest season, leading to similar delays and increased costs experienced by the grain industry last year.
Ben Doane, Manager of Barge Freight at CHS Global Grain & Processing, says the industry was taken by surprise last year.
“There were overloaded barges loaded to ten to fifteen feet that physically just could not transit. So, as a result of those barges, hundreds of barges getting left behind, we were congesting fleets at really the worst part of the year,” he said.
Doane says barge traffic was shut down entirely during the harvest for two weeks last year due to low water levels. In response, the Army Corps of Engineers this past summer undertook several dredging operations to avoid a similar situation this harvest season.
“And that’s exactly what happened. 2023, fast forward the clock to this past September [and] October, and lightning struck twice. But the industry was just a lot more well-prepped,” he said. “There are a lot less overloaded barges in the system because the industry was very mindful of what had just happened, and we loaded barges a little bit more conservatively.”
Thanks to recent rainfall in the Mississippi River basin, Doane says, “We’re coming out of this, which is good news.”
“We have had recent rainfall sweep across the Midwest, which has really been favorable for water levels in the US. So, we’re certainly not out of it, not out of the woods by any stretch of the word, but we’re trending in the right direction in terms of water levels now,” he said. “We do need consistent rainfall going forward, ultimately to stabilize and sustain water levels to more optimal operating conditions where these Lower Miss shippers can execute twelve-foot drafts. We’re not there yet.”
While the situation has improved compared to last year, Doane says barge delays still exist. Doane was a guest of the “NCI Market Update: Special Edition” webinar series on November 1.