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A Big River Dries Out
News Shorts
Posted: September 19, 2023
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    Barges float in the Mississippi River on September 15, 2023, in St. Louis, Missouri. Part of the riverbed is dry. (AP/Jeff Roberson)
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    A tugboat pushes barges around a sandbar in the Mississippi. (AP/Gerald Herbert)
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It’s hot. It’s dry. The Mississippi River gets low, low, low.

Farmers in the Midwest sigh with disappointment. Their corn and soybeans just grew ripe. Those crops need to take boat rides down the Mississippi to market.

Thousands of farmers watched drought scorch their fields for much of the summer. The low river means they must pay more to ship what remains of their crops.

Did you know the mighty Mississippi is also a highway? More than half the grain leaving the United States travels on the river. Big boats called barges carry the grain to New Orleans, Louisiana. There the corn, soybeans, and wheat get moved to other ships. Fifteen barges lashed together carry as much cargo as about 1,000 trucks!

Normally, that’s a cheap way to move goods. But when river levels drop, shipping costs soar. Workers must load ships with less grain so they don’t sink as deeply into the water. Shallow water means narrower lanes for ships to pass through. Narrow lanes mean ships get delayed.

Now farmers watch the sky. No rain in sight. Just a few months ago, they had the opposite problem. A huge snowpack in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin quickly melted. The river flooded.

Jim Larson works beside the Mississippi River in Red Wing, Minnesota. He has seen plenty of droughts and floods during 30 years in the grain-loading business.

“Some years you have flood, and some years you have drought, and sometimes you have them both in the same year,” he says. “Kind of keeps you on your toes.”

He gives rain on the Earth and sends waters on the fields. — Job 5:10