The Mississippi River Is Not So Mighty Right Now

Most of the drought news in the U.S. concerns the Western United States and the Colorado River. Unfortunately, the drought is hitting more than the West and what is happening to the Mississippi River is an example of what drought can do to major regions. The Colorado and Mississippi are two of the longest rivers in the U.S. and major suppliers to many cities. The Mississippi is almost 1000 miles longer than the Colorado. You can learn more about drought and the Colorado River here. 50 U.S. cities rely on the Mississippi River for their daily water, and around 175 million tons of freight are moved by the Mississippi River each year. The Mississippi basin is a big deal for Agriculture. The Mississippi River basin produces 92% of the nation’s agricultural exports, 78% of the world’s exports in feed grains and soybeans, and most of the livestock produced nationally.

The Drought In The Midwest

78% of the Midwest is dry or in a drought. This drought trend has been accelerating over the past few months, and since mid-September, Minneapolis has received only 6% of average rainfall. Cincinnati – 10%, Omaha – 33%, Oklahoma City 3%, and Memphis – 0%. These regions all feed the Mississippi River. As a result, much of the Mississippi River is close to minimum operating levels. For example, Madrid, Missouri, is currently under the minimum operating level. The drought in Minnesota this year is so bad that the Minnehaha Creek is dry and looks like a dirt road.

How Does Drought Impact The Mississippi River

Due to the lack of rain, the River is shallow. As a result, barges moving freight are reduced to drafts of nine feet, significantly reducing the cargo they can carry. This reduces freight traffic by 25% – 30%. As a result, the cost of moving freight is skyrocketing. Freight rates are twice what they were a year ago and almost four times higher than two years ago. This impacts commodity prices worldwide when inflation is already moving higher quickly.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began emergency dredging at various locations along the River to deepen it for commercial traffic. However, it is crucial to acknowledge shipping rates for barges are typically less than traditional shipping forms.

Some growers are benefitting from higher commodity prices. Growers are expected to harvest the second-largest soybean crop and seventh-largest corn crops. Thanks to higher prices, farm receipts should hit a record. However, with higher inputs, this looks like it will be the second most expensive crop on record.

Are There Solutions?

There are always easy solutions to complex problems, most of which don’t work. However, in this case, more rain would help tremendously. In addition to more rain, several long-term solutions require some work but will help the situation improve.

  1. Improve Soil Health – Healthy soil holds more water.
  2. Reduce water losses in irrigation systems. Install more drip irrigation.
  3. Turn center pivot irrigation into drip irrigation. You can learn about how to accomplish this here.
  4. Plant drought-tolerant crop varieties.
  5. There are over 200 solutions here in the Jain Irrigation Training Series.

Climate changes are severe and causing many food supply disruptions in the U.S. and worldwide. This comes when we need to produce more food than we ever have. We have many tools and options to produce more crop per drop of water; sometimes, it takes an emergency to motivate change. Hopefully, the current crisis will encourage enough people to make a change and take advantage of the technology available today to manage water.



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