Agriculture in recent weeks has been dealt another blow by the drought as low river and stream levels have affected everything from barge traffic to irrigation systems.
Barge operators on the lower Mississippi River currently can’t load vessels to full capacity in an attempt to prevent barges from running aground.
Barge traffic in recent weeks has been interrupted form Cairo to Natchez, Miss.
The Mississippi River level at Memphis last week was just 6 feet above the record-low level recorded in 1988.
“We’ve got to load lighter here because (the barges) have to go down the Mississippi to get to New Orleans,” said Lonnie Lewis, president of the Pope-Hardin Farm Bureau, who operates a towing service on the Ohio River near Cave In Rock. “It’s going to cost (the industry).”
A barge chugs upstream on the Mississippi River near St. Louis this month. Barge operators have reduced loading capacity on barges by about 25 percent in recent weeks due to low water levels on the river. (Photo by Dan Grant)
Shippers are reducing the size of barge loads by about 25 percent, according to Lewis.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projected the lower Mississippi will drop to within about 2 feet of the record low. That would be a stark contrast to last year when the river crested at near-record high levels at some locations. The river last week was as much as 50 feet below the peak during last year’s flood, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“It’ll affect the long-haul carriers more than anybody,” Lewis said.
The low river levels are the result of a lack of rainfall –- many locations in the Mid-South are more than 10 inches below average rainfall totals so far this year while parts of Southern Illinois and Southern Indiana are as much as 14-plus inches below average rainfall – combined with lower-than-normal snowfall in the Northern Plains and Midwest this past winter.
The drought also prompted the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to restrict irrigation activity.
More than 1,100 farmers in Nebraska last week were ordered to halt irrigation because rivers they use to draw water have dropped to low levels, Reuters news service reported.
The order did not affect irrigation systems that draw water from wells.