The countdown has started to what many in the industry suspect will be a shutdown to barge traffic on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Cairo, IL in the coming days. Historic drought conditions mean less water in the river system. Barge companies have already lessened their draft, but that can’t accommodate for physical barriers to barge traffic called “rock pinnacles” that dot the river landscape south of St. Louis. Illinois Corn is pursuing many avenues to alleviate the impact this will have on corn farmers in the state.
The first and most obvious cause for concern is the cessation of barge traffic at a point much farther south on the river than we typically deal with this time of year. But the duration of the closure and uncertainty surrounding the removal of the pinnacles is concerning. And what about the products that come up river, like fertilizer? What becomes of your demand for spring applied nitrogen, for instance?
To bring the appropriate level of attention to this cause it is necessary to reach beyond just the concerns of agriculture. Who else might be impacted? Here’s a short rundown of information provided by the American Waterways Operators and the Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI). IL Corn actually holds a seat on the WCI Board of Directors.
If Mississippi River Commerce were to close in the two month period of December to January:
· Over 410 tows would be impacted, and more than 10,600 barges would be stopped
· 4,100 towboat jobs would be impacted
· 5 million barrels of domestic crude oil would be replaced by imported crude, costing $545M in additional imports
· About 300 million bushels of farm products delayed in reaching market
· Coal worth $192M would be shut in
· Total cargo valued at $7 billion would stop moving if the river were closed between St. Louis and Cairo, IL, due to low water
Improving the waterways infrastructure is among the top priorities of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, and also a top investment area for corn checkoff dollars (by the Illinois Corn Marketing Board) to provide research to support the importance of this system.
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