Shipping travel along the Mississippi River has been disrupted as water levels nearing record lows cause barges to get stuck in mud and sand, likely creating another snag for the supply chain.
The U.S. Coast Guard said last week that at least eight barge groundings have been reported within the past week.
One of the groundings happened Friday between Louisiana and Mississippi, near Lake Providence, Louisiana. It halted river traffic in both directions for days, forcing dozens of barges to line up and wait to pass by.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dredged the Mississippi at several spots to keep river traffic flowing in some areas from Missouri south through Louisiana. Low-water restrictions were also placed on barge loads, slowing down transport.
Much of the Mississippi River basin, from Minnesota through Louisiana, has seen below-normal rainfall since late August. The basin from St. Louis south has been largely dry for three months, according to the National Weather Service.
Experts say the delays couldn’t come at a worse time as barges carry harvested corn and soybeans along the river.
Mike Steenhoek, executive director of Soy Transportation Coalition, estimated that the low water limits have reduced barge capacity by about one-third. He said barges transport about 29% of the nation’s soybean crop.
Matt Ziegler, manager of public policy and regulatory affairs for the National Corn Growers Association, said about 20% of the corn crop is exported, and nearly two-thirds of those exports typically travel down the Mississippi River on barges before being sent out of New Orleans.
Lucy Fletcher of the agricultural retailer AGRIServices of Brunswick told The Associated Press that while river delays have some shippers looking to divert to rail or trucks, some means of transportation are largely booked and unavailable due to supply chain issues following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.