An unseasonably warm winter coupled with three summers of drought has impacted not only soil moisture, but also river levels making it difficult and expensive to transport supplies. It is not just pastures and crop fields that have dried up this summer, but also creeks and streams. Water levels on the Mississippi River are around 12 feet below normal in some spots and barges are having a hard time moving upriver. With less river to go around, flotillas have shrunk and more trips are being made by fewer barges.
Barges carrying valuable commodities, including fertilizer from the Gulf, are finding they just cannot carry as much cargo as in years past. Smaller payloads mean more frequent trips with lighter loads to avoid grounding the massive vessels as they creep northward. A barge can be raised 1 inch out of the water by offloading 17 metric tons (MT) of cargo. That amount may sound like a drop in the bucket, but as the summer goes on, river levels continue to drop forcing barge operators to carry less and less with each load. This puts an immediate strain on the cost of shipping and may contribute to driving fertilizer costs upward.