Timeline of the Mississippi River Crisis: How did we get here?

The water levels on the Mississippi River have reached historic lows, and it is severely affecting the agricultural industry.

Mississippi River 1988 1280x720.jpg

Mississippi River 1988

This year saw a lot of heat and dryness across the United States. The lack of water and rain has affected the Mississippi River, one of the most important trade routes in history. Now, economists are predicting this to persist until at least winter.

So, how did we get here and where are we now?

The week of September 28, 2022
Concerns start to arise related to the diminishing water levels along the inland waterway system that it will affect barge transportation.

The week of October 7, 2022
Southbound barge tonnages on the Mississippi River were reduced by more than 20 percent and the number of barges per tow was reduced by 17-38 percent. Barge shipping rates were up 40 percent year on year.

October 10, 2022

Ingram Barge Company, the largest barge operator in the U.S., told its customers it cannot make good on deliveries due to low river levels. It declared the dreaded force majeure.

October 12, 2022
Harvest becomes “game time” for farmers and the supply chain responsible for transporting soybeans and grain to customers. The barge and towing industry continued to institute a 25-barge maximum tow size south of St. Louis. According to USDA, transporting a ton of soybeans cost $90.45/ton during the week of October 4, 2022. The same time last year, the same shipment cost $28.45.

Lisa Parker with the Army Corps of Engineers spoke with RFD-TV’s own Suzanne Alexander about how the current water levels are looking, if there is a lot of barge traffic, and what is being done to address the situation.

October 18, 2022
The Mississippi River hit a record low of -11.1 feet at Memphis, Tennessee. During this time, commercial activities such as barge traffic and riverboats were experiencing difficulty navigating portions of the river. Shipping costs jumped nearly 400 percent on the year. Some shippers turned to Pacific Northwest ports.

October 19, 2022

The low river bed let more saltwater into the Mississippi and that slowed barges down further. The Gulf’s saltwater will flow upstream, against the less dense river freshwater, forming a wedge that is more difficult for ships to cut through. USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey pointed out that the current stage for the Mississippi River at Memphis is 13 feet below, which is considered to be a low stage at Memphis, Tennessee.

October 21, 2022

The Tennessee Valley Authority planned to release water to help navigation on the Mississippi River. Footage from William Frogge shows just how critically low the levels are in Memphis. Some areas are the lowest in history, stranding barges and boats. To help stabilize commercial navigation, TVA will release water from two dams on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers to help raise levels.

October 24, 2022

Low water levels on the Mississippi River will likely continue through the winter, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A barge captain on the River called the situation “disastrous,” saying he has spent roughly $10,000 a day just idling while waiting for other barges to clear low spots. He said his ship normally travels 200 miles per day, but recently, he traveled just 60 miles in 4 days. He says he and other captains on the mighty River are ready to just move on.

October 25, 2022

A truckload of water traveled nearly 400 miles to keep the largest underground reservoir in the U.S. from drying up. 6,000 gallons of water from the Missouri River were taken to two different locations to replenish the Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains. The aquifer is essential for irrigation in this high-producing region, and right now, some farmers who use the source are facing dangerously low levels.

October 26, 2022

Low water levels in the Mississippi River could cost the U.S. economy as much as $20 billion. Traffic slowed to a crawl, and meteorologists at AccuWeather said it is not expected to recover until early next year. The Soy Transportation Coalition called the situation “very concerning.” The group said the inland waterway system in the lower Mississippi currently does not have the normal capacity to accommodate this year’s harvest.

October 27, 2022

Senior meteorologist, Paul Pastelok spoke with RFD-TV’s own Suzanne Alexander on current barge traffic status, the importance of the Mississippi for ag, and what the economic forecast is.

October 31, 2022
Basis prices started to ease along the Mississippi River as water levels continue to dry up.
Economists with the University of Minnesota Extension said the basis for corn at a loading facility south of the Twin Cities is a quarter below southwest Minnesota. On a normal day, those statistics would be flipped with Minnesota upwards of $0.25 less than the river.

November 2, 2022

USDA works with grain elevators along the Mississippi River to create temporary storage space. Historic low levels are creating major barge delays. Central Elevator in Missouri says it is repairing and certifying older buildings that have not been used in a decade.

November 3, 2022

The Soy Transportation Coalition found an alternative shipping route for some of this year’s harvest. The group partnered with the St. Lawrence Seaway to get grains out to the market. It extends more than 2,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the head of the Great Lakes in Duluth, Minnesota with ships traveling through 15 locks in Canada and the U.S.

November 4, 2022

The logistical hurdles are also a big concern for the fertilizer industry.

President of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, KJ Johnson spoke with RFD-TV’s own Janet Adkison on how a potential railroad strike could impact the industry, how much potash is transported via rail, what the administration has said, and what advice he has for farmers.

November 7, 2022

USDA is working with grain elevators to develop temporary grain storage space.
Deb Calhoun with the Waterways Council spoke with RFD-TV’s Janet Adkison on updates, what she is hearing from the industry, and what to expect moving forward.

November 9, 2022

As the situation prolongs, many are now looking for risk management tactics.

Extension economist with the University of Arkansas, Hunter Biram spoke with RFD-TV’s own Janet Adkison on what he has been hearing from farmers, risk management tools producers can use, and what to expect moving forward.

November 14, 2022

November is expected to be dry in Missouri, and more moisture is needed in the North to boost the Mississippi River levels.

The Climate Prediction Center says with winter setting in, ice will cause more issues moving forward.

November 15, 2022

USDA’s Chief Economist says as the water levels change, so do the barge rates. When water levels rose slightly, prices fell off highs that we saw last month.

Seth Meyer says that could cause farmers to take losses on crops if there are no other shipping options, especially if they have to sell in off-season markets just to move grain, which in turn would make the U.S. less competitive when it comes to exports.