Mixed emotions as Upper Mississippi River reopens to barges

Iowa News

The halt to barge traffic has delayed farmers' income and prevented some from planting crops because fertilizer arrives by barge.

FILE – In this May 3, 2019 aerial file photo, the Modern Woodmen Park, top, and the surrounding of downtown Davenport, Iowa, are area covered by Mississippi River floodwaters. The prolonged flooding along the Mississippi River will cost more than $2 billion in repairs and cleanup, the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, and advocacy group for river communities, said Tuesday, June 25, 2019. (Kevin E. Schmidt/Quad City Times via AP, File)

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — The Army Corps of Engineers has partially opened the Mississippi River to barge traffic, but some farmers in Iowa are still worried about the financial impact of the slow recovery of shipping on the waterway.

Dozens of barges were brought to a standstill during this devastating flood season . Samantha Heilig, a spokeswoman with the Rock Island District of the Army Corps of Engineers, said the locks that had been closed since mid-March re-opened earlier this month.

Robb Ewoldt told the Quad-City Times that he has around $80,000 worth of soybeans in storage at his farm in Scott County, waiting to be shipped down the river. The barges are moving, but slowly, and this worries Ewoldt.

“We now have a limited time to transport this crop down the river for export,” he said. “That’s the main thing I’m concerned about. There’s only a finite amount of barges that can get through the aging infrastructure on our lock and dams. Are we going to have enough time to move this crop out before we start harvesting our 2019 crop?”

The halt to barge traffic has delayed farmers’ income and prevented some from planting crops because fertilizer arrives by barge. Farmers are also apprehensive about shipping costs because barges are in high demand.

“That increased cost gets passed down to the farmer,” Ewoldt noted.

But farmers aren’t the only ones losing business.

Shipping companies have lost out on sales or turned to costly alternatives, said Doug Weber, a manager at shipping company Alter River Terminal Rock Island.

“This has never happened before,” Weber said. “People in this industry for 50 years have never heard of anything like this for this duration.”

Weber said his company usually ships one or two barges per day, but only a dozen barges have moved since the river closed to traffic.

“Sales have just disappeared,” he said.

Ewoldt said he’ll be “waiting in line with everyone else,” hoping his soybeans are shipped while he works to pay off last year’s debt.

“It’s been challenging,” he said. “I’ve never worked a day in my life until this season because now it’s not too much fun. Before this it was pretty good.”

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