Farmers, barge companies and railroads are losing money from the continued delay of the shipping season on the Mississippi River.

"In mid-April we thought the shipping season would start by May 1," says Jerry Fruin, transportation and marketing specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. "But the second cresting of the Mississippi is causing more delays, and it's going to be at least mid-May before we see barge traffic."

Normally, the shipping season starts April 1 and goes until the end of November. "We're going to be closed down for a total of six to eight weeks, and that means we could lose up to 25% of the shipping season," Fruin says.

From Minnesota, about 130 million bushels of corn, 55 million bushels of soybeans and 25 million bushels of wheat are shipped on the Mississippi River each year. All told, about 28% of the grain leaving the state is barged down the Mississippi River-primarily for export from gulf ports.

Some grain sales are probably being lost to international competitors, but Fruin says the larger impacts are the additional costs of transportation and storage. Farmers are forced to sell grain at lower prices, barge companies are losing money and some railroads have been flooded and forced to reroute traffic at added costs.

Elevators located near rivers may not be able to take in or ship out grain by rail, Fruin says, and some can't even take it in or out by truck. In addition, fertilizer shipments scheduled to come by barge are not arriving, delaying critical deliveries to farms before the planting season.

When water levels finally allow navigation, the Coast Guard will likely implement traffic restrictions, according to a recent Grain Transportation Report from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. These may include enforcing no-wake zones, limiting travel to daylight hours, prohibiting tank barges and reducing minimum tow sizes. More dredging may be necessary to clear channels, and required buoys and other navigational aids will need to be replaced.

For more information, contact Jerry Fruin 612-625-8720, fruin001@umn.edu