West Tennessee farmers struggle to get their crops to market as drought drains the Mississippi River – Tennessee Lookout
John Dodson’s corn, cotton and soybean fields are less than 10 miles (16 km) from the Mississippi River, the main transportation artery for grain farmers in West Tennessee. But they might as well be a thousand.
The historically low water levels on the river come at the worst possible time for him. It’s peak harvest season, but he can’t get his harvest to market.
West Tennessee farmers have long relied on the proximity of the Mississippi, delivering their crops directly from the field to the river. Ease of access means many farmers don’t have the large grain storage silos that farmers in the Midwest and elsewhere rely on.
As drought strangles transportation on the Mississippi, many of these farmers are now forced to leave crops in the fields and pray for rain everywhere else but on top of their harvest-ready crops.
“It’s a double-edged sword for us right now,” Dodson said. “We need rain for the river to rise, but we don’t need it for our crops in the fields.”
“I’ve never seen this before. We have the Mississippi right next to us and we have always been able to count on him.
Last week, the Mississippi River hit lowest levels on record — at minus 10.75 feet near Memphis, according to the National Weather Service.
It is the most critical artery for the country’s grain exports. According to the National Park Service, about 60% of all US grain exports travel down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico for export overseas.
It’s a double-edged sword for us right now. We need rain for the river to rise, but we don’t need it for our crops in the fields.
– John Dodson, Dyer County Farmer
Barge traffic was limited, and the U.S. Coast Guard limited the weight supported by each barge, measured in drafts—or the distance from the waterline to the boat’s deepest point. Drafts are generally 12′. Last week, the Guard limited drafts to 9 feet below the waterline in an effort to prevent groundings in shallow water.
“There have been a lot of groundings,” said Jamie Bigbie, vice president of Southern-Devall, which operates fleets of tugs and liquid barges that typically transport fertilizer to farmers.
The delays were costly, he said. A recent trip that typically takes seven days on the Mississippi took the company’s crew 14 days, he said. Weight restrictions limiting the amount of cargo still require the same number of crews, driving up costs.
Crews remain on board for the duration of the voyage, so delays require additional supply boats bringing provisions and fuel to the barges, he said. And barges that run aground jeopardize the safety of crews on board and require costly repairs, he said.
“We need rain, obviously,” he said. “And I hope we get rain before it turns to snow. That’s how we get the ball rolling. I’m praying for rain.
Nashville-based Ingram Barge, the largest barge operator in the United States, advised customers that it had declared the record high water levels a “force majeure event,” the company said in a statement. Friday. The statement invokes a “force majeure” provision in their contracts.
“Chronic low water conditions throughout the inland river system have had a negative effect on many people who depend on the river, including Ingram Barge,” said John Roberts, CEO of Ingram Barge. “We recently informed our customers that given the difficult operating conditions posed by this low tide, we had given notice of a force majeure event, namely that circumstances beyond our control prevented normal river transport operations. in some areas.”
Dodson, the Dyer County farmer, said he was luckier than most. He and his father took advantage of a state cost-sharing program to build large grain storage structures on their farm. The situation on neighboring farms is more serious, he said. Over 90% of Dyer County is devoted to agriculture.
The wait to load grain onto Consolidated Grain & Barge in Dyersburg is 4 to 7 hours a day. Dodson’s other loading destination in Lauderdale County has seen multiple full-day closures in recent weeks.
These two locations handle the majority of crops in Dyer, Lauderdale, Obion, Tipton, Crocket, and other West Tennessee counties, including Dodson.
The weather in West Tennessee was beautiful – sunny, temperate and perfect for harvesting crops. Any significant rain now could jeopardize crops in the field. Dodson is pinning his hopes on rain anywhere north — Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota — to replenish the river.
“We need rain in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be in Dyer County,” he said.