Drought in the Upper Midwest rumbles in the background this late fall, and proof of the danger it provides can be found in the writings of Jeff Caldwell in Agriculture.com, this past week. The lead of Caldwell’s main drought story stated: “Old Man River may be next casualty of the drought of 2012.”
Of course, the Old Man River in question is the fabled Mississippi, Father of Waters, now becoming at the least the Uncle of Sandbars as the pernicious drought continues. Caldwell writes that lawmakers and industrial leaders drafted a letter near the end of November asking President Barack Obama for help in keeping the major agricultural transportation system, the Mississippi, from drying up, causing major dislocation for vital movement of crops to market.
Caldwell reported Nov. 28 that INTL FCStone, Inc. had indicated that a group of 15 senators, 62 House members and leaders of the grain, fertilizer, metals and export industries had urged the president to create what it called an “emergency directive” to allow more water from the upper Missouri, also a bit low these days, to flow into the Mississippi to prevent navigation disruptions. Just think, last year at this time the major valleys of these two mighty rivers were gorged with water, and widespread destruction from flooding. Nowadays, the Goads might recognize a lot of it.
Never let it be said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can’t make a bad problem worse. Caldwell reported that Nov. 26, as the river leaders geared up, the Corps began a draw down, reducing the flow of the Mississippi. That move, Caldwell reported, “was expected to worsen the low water conditions on the Mississippi River. This low water condition between Saint Louis, Missouri, and Cairo, Illinois, could potentially halt barge traffic at Saint Louis within weeks.”
In a previous story in Agriculture.com (Nov. 19), Caldwell noted that low rivers may hamper grain movement as this harvest comes to a close. He wrote, “The drought that smoked through crop yield potential this year is still top-of-mind for anyone near the nation’s biggest river system, especially along the Missouri River from the Dakotas to the confluence with the Mississippi River.”
All of this has great implications for grain marketing in the coming year. Caldwell believes that actions taken on the Missouri will be “critical to restoring more normal water levels in not just that river, but downstream into the Mississippi, where navigation – and the movement of grain to the Gulf of Mexico – is already being disrupted.”
That was in mid-November. It has only gotten worse. “ACE’s immediate actions to trim water flow into the river from upstream reservoirs could actually further endanger barge traffic in the near term,” said grain analyst Jim McCormick of Allendale, Inc., in Caldwell’s article of warning.
I’ll see ya.
An Iowa native, Peter Graham has been a rural newspaper editor for 40 years. He currently edits a twice-weekly paper in Western Iowa. You can contact him at (712) 642-2791 or news@missourivalley times.com.