Huge barge backup eases on Mississippi River

A backup of more than 2,000 boats and barges on the Mississippi River is being cleared as two closures along the waterway reopened on Sunday.

Low water levels had halted commercial shipments of commodities, including recently harvested corn and soybeans, in the latest supply chain snarl that came in the middle of the autumn harvest and amid prolonged local drought.

Currently, there is no line of vessels near Memphis, though there are restrictions there to one-way traffic. In Mississippi, the lines of barges and vessels north and south is down to fewer than 900, the Coast Guard said.

On Friday, the backup along the river stood at more than 2,000 at various points. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging near Stack Island to make water levels deeper.

With water levels low along the Mississippi’s critical shipping lanes, companies have been scrambling to find alternate ways to move everything from metals to fertilizers to agriculture products. This has raised costs and made U.S. cargoes more expensive when food inflation is already at its highest level in four decades.

The drying Mississippi echoes logistics headaches around the world this summer, including on the Rhine River, in what scientists say is a Northern Hemisphere drought worsened considerably by climate change.

In 2012, the Great Plains drought led to $35 billion in losses for the U.S., including closing the river at least three times. In 2020, the total value of domestic commerce that moved from Minn