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How low Mississippi River levels impact farmers heading into harvest season

The river is less wide and less deep, which means adjustments must be made for river cargo and for how much supply can head to market.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — The low Mississippi River levels in Memphis and ongoing dry conditions are also drying up profits for Mid-South farmers, whose soybeans, corn and wheat are shipped down river to market.

The drought conditions along the river - months in the making - are expected to also impact farmers in the months ahead as they deal with higher shipping costs and lower amounts of crops allowed on barges to the Gulf Coast.

"When I see some of these conditions on the Mississippi River, my mind immediately goes to less money in a farmer's wallet," Mike Steenhoek with the Soy Transportation Coalition told ABC24.

That's the reality these days, as near record low levels recorded on the Mississippi River in Memphis are challenging area farmers heading into the critical fall harvest season. 

The owner of Dodson Farms - a soybean farm in Dyer County - said profits at his and other area farms are down 15% compared to last year.

"It's having a real impact on the efficiency of barge transportation," Steenhoek added. "The remedy of this is just more precipitation."

But until rainfall returns to our north and feeds the Mississippi River from the Midwest, Steenhoek said crop supply disruptions will continue. That's because low river levels mean barges must carry less product, and not as many crops can be latched together down river. 

"So about 10% due to channel depth not being normal and then easily to 20% to 30% due to channel width. So you put that together, you are talking about a significant decrease in efficiency," Steenhoek said.

Along the Mississippi River, including in Memphis, teams with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are also assisting with equipment to ease pressure points on the critical shipping waterway, less wide and less deep for the foreseeable future.

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