There’s no better way to get a first-hand look at the low water levels of the Mississippi River and the impacts on shipments than the pilot house of a river tow boat. Jimmy Cheatham, otherwise known as Capt-J-Rock on Tik Tok, uses the platform to show folks what towboats are facing. He says 2022 is much like 2012 and 1988.
“In comparative to 1988 and 2012, we have hit some record lows. Nothing has totally stopped. We’ve come in periods where we’ve had temporary shutdowns on the river due to dredging, but we’re still moving commerce. Right now, it’s taking every boat and barge we can get loaded to move, and there’s a reason to that. When we have safety zones put in place due to low water or extreme high water, and they limit the total sizes and drafts, this will put more barges in the system. And when that happens, it requires more boats more manpower.”
And with less water in the channel, there is less room for tows to maneuver.
“Less room, absolutely. And there’s a lot more wait time for northbound traffic upon the Western River. Southdown traffic has the righty away that flows with the current. So, when we’re meeting people coming down and we’re northbound, their southbound, a lot of times we’re having to stop due to other traffic ahead of us a lot further south or below them, that creates time loss for the company and costing the company money.”
Cheatham says the slowdowns impact global trade.
“It slows it down tremendously. It impacts not only our nation, but the world. You know, the United States exports a humongous amount of grains around the world, and it’s just slowed down. I mean we’re moving it but not near as fast. We never have been speeds demons out there. But when the channel is shut down for 24 to 36 hours for dredging, or somebody bumps the bottom and runs around, and they have to close to river to clear it, that definitely slows things down.”
Many farmers are concerned about the availability and price of fertilizer in 2023. Cheatham says the supplies are there, it’s the transportation that will take time.
“The supply is there. There’s a number of barges right now that’s loaded, waiting to transit North, loads of fertilizer. The thing is the bigger boats, they can’t bring up the big tows, so it’s adding extra time to get those loads up here. The number of barges in place, they’re getting hung up like a lot of times when barges are getting offloaded in the Gulf to be reloaded. We bring in empty’s and loads back up and we’re having trouble getting those empty back up as well with their fertilizer. So, it’s kind of a double edged sword for us.”
He adds the river transportation industry is working hard to get grain moved south, and fertilizer moved north, for farmers, but at more costs.
“Well, we’re making every effort that we can to keep commerce movement. Sadly, the delay, the shipping time and freight has skyrocketed out there right now, due to the fact. There’s going to be a price to pay at the end somewhere, and I’m afraid that our farmers are going to pick that up first.”