SEMO professor speaks on continuing low Mississippi River levels

Agriculture expert says it’s unclear when the drought will end
SEMO professor speaks on low river level impact.
Published: Nov. 6, 2023 at 3:42 PM CST
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - After months of drought and low Mississippi River levels, it’s still unclear when conditions will return to what is considered normal for the area.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson issued a drought alert for the state on May 31, 2023. Since then, river levels have fallen as low as minus 6.4 feet at New Madrid, Mo., according to National Weather service data.

Michael Aide, Ph.D., teaches agriculture students at Southeast Missouri State University. In an interview recorded in early October and aired on Monday, November 6 on Heartland Afternoon, he said the impacts of the continuing drought are far-reaching, affecting agribusiness, the economy and even contracts with overseas vendors.

“There’s no indication of when this drought may stop,” said Aide. “Historically, October is our driest month, but it could go right through the winter, which would be a total disaster for moving grain down the river.”

River levels fluctuate, but this year, the levels have been low for a longer period of time than previous years, putting real strain on producers. “The river is the lifeblood of American agriculture,” said Aide.

The low levels greatly impact farmers’ ability to get their crops where they need to go on time. If the farmers can’t ship the grain on barges up or down the river, they have to find somewhere on their own land to store it.

“Price is always built into how you manage your crop,” said Aide. “If they have their grain storage facilities filled up, that may influence how they plant next year.”

With agriculture being among the top industries in the Heartland, that’s a concern for many.

“Keep in mind that agriculture is the main economic sector of Southeast Missouri, especially in the Bootheel,” said Aide. “It is the economic driver that everything else depends upon.”

According to the National Weather Service in Paducah, the river is forecast to fall below 10 feet again by November 12.