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Is the Shipping Crisis on the Mississippi River Coming to an End? What is the Outlook for Spring?

Posted on February 1, 2023

The shipping crisis on the Mississippi River might finally be coming to an end. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging the river 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since July, ever since low water levels on the river due to drought started causing shipping backups. The Corps hopes to be done dredging by the end of the month.

Officials with the Soy Transportation Coalition say the Army Corps of Engineers has done a great job dredging. They are also encouraged by the improved snowpack in areas such as Montana and precipitation through the midsection of the country late last fall and this winter.  As a result, they are optimistic water levels on the Mississippi River and its tributaries are rebounding and could be back to normal by this spring. 

Mike Steenhoek, Executive Director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, says, “When you look at the river gauges at these various points on the inland waterway system, points like Memphis, Tennessee and St. Louis, we’re seeing water levels that are equal to or at least comparable to what we saw at this time last year.”

While that is encouraging, Steenhoek says it takes time to get barge and river traffic back to normal after trauma with record low water levels. Some barges are not positioned where they normally would be, so there are logistical issues yet to work through.

“It’s very much anticipated you’re going to see some of these shippers, whether they’re on the outbound side or on the inbound side, still having hiccups or challenges with getting the kind of service that they normally would expect, just because it takes time to get back to normal,” Steenhoek says.

This will impact the movement of not only the grain being moved south on the river into export channels but also inputs and other products being moved north to be put in place for the 2023 growing season, he adds.

The Soy Transportation Coalition is also working with the Army Corps of Engineers to continue dredging efforts along the Mississippi, Illinois and other areas of the inland waterway system to get ahead of the next problem or crisis.


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