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Mississippi River flooding impacting fertilizer shipments for Indiana’s farmers, ag businesses

May 1, 2023   WKKG (Columbus, IN)

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In less than six months, the Mississippi River has gone from historically low levels to major flooding, which is now impacting farmers and ag businesses across Indiana.


“The pendulum really can swing pretty dramatically, and this time of the year, we’re particularly vulnerable to it,” says Mike Steenhoek, Executive Director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. He says it’s not unusual for water levels to rise in the spring. But what is unusual is how fast the Mississippi River went from being too dry to too wet.


“You can have these late-winter, early-spring significant weather events with a lot of snowfall in a particular region. And then, the ground, at that same time, is still cold, and when it does melt, it doesn’t soak into the ground. So, the ground behaves more like a tabletop versus a sponge, so any kind of melting that occurs, it’s expedited into our streams and rivers. If you have that same kind of precipitation during the summer, you won’t see that kind of dramatic increase in water levels because so much of its being absorbed into the ground.”


Steenhoek says many locks along the Mississippi River will likely remain closed through the second week of May.


“Not every single one of them is closed because each one has some idiosyncrasies to it with their specific location, but most of them are. Some for a week, a week-and-a-half, but even others are going to be two to three weeks. I envision when we’re in the middle of May, we’re still going to see some of these locks that are closed. Obviously, the big variable is what kind of precipitation we receive in the days to come?”


While the higher levels will impact some grain shipments, the larger concern is the shipments of fertilizers heading north to reach farmers and ag retailers throughout the Midwest.


“Once the Upper Mississippi River opens, typically in March, you start to see a lot of fertilizer shipments northbound. So, late March, throughout the course of April into May, you see a lot of those northbound fertilizer shipments. So, that’s something that is key for the agricultural industry is having those barge shipments of fertilizer. For those cooperatives that haven’t fully restocked, and some of them have restocked on their fertilizer needs, but for those that still need to have those deliveries, they’re going to have to find alternative routes, and that’s typically via railroad.”


Last weekend, the Mississippi River throughout Iowa reached its highest levels in nearly 22 years.