OMAHA (DTN) -- The Coast Guard has established safety zones along large sections of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, essentially closing them to commercial traffic due to high water.
More than 100 barges broke free of their moorings near St. Louis on Saturday. Most of the barges were corralled, but some sank and others collided with a bridge, causing authorities to close it temporarily to make sure it was still structurally sound, according to reports from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Barges have also broken loose near Vicksburg, Miss., and on the Illinois River. The Mississippi River has reopened to traffic in Vicksburg, but the Illinois River safety zone will remain in place until April 30, according to a river conditions update by the Ingram Barge Company.
A slow-moving storm system dropped 5 to 7 inches of rain in the Illinois River valley on April 17-18, causing creeks and rivers to swell. Central Illinois will see another inch of rain this week, but DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson doesn't think "it will have a big impact in terms of adding more 'liquid fuel' to the flooding."
Much of that deluge is making its way to the Illinois River, which is expected to pass its all-time record crest on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
At Beardstown, Ill., the river is expected to crest at 30.5 feet, which is a foot higher than the old record set in 1943. Peoria will likely set a new record of 30 feet, beating the old 28.8 foot record also set in 1943, Anderson said.
Most of the locks on the Mississippi River between the Quad Cities and south of Quincy, Ill., have been closed, said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soybean Transportation Coalition. He noted that current water levels exceed the height of some of the locks and dams in that stretch.
"To state the obvious, we are living in an era of extremes," Steenhoek said. "A few months ago, I and others were talking exhaustively about low water levels on the Mississippi River and its impact on barge transportation. Now the topic is high water levels."
On Jan. 1, the water level on the Mississippi River at St. Louis was 4.57 feet below the river gauge. The forecast water level for Wednesday at St. Louis is expected to rise 39.4 feet above the river gauge, a "remarkable" 45-foot swing in water levels in just four months, Steenhoek said.
The river closure will affect some agricultural products more than others, Steenhoek said. The U.S. exports most of its soybeans between September and February, while corn exports tend to be more evenly distributed throughout the year, he said.
"We have seen aggressive pricing at Gulf locations due to a demand for corn and soybeans since the river is not providing that pipeline of service," he said. "Basis has been widening in the interior since grain handlers can't release what they have on hand and what they are receiving."
DTN Cash Grains Analyst Mary Kennedy said interior basis levels have been mixed in the past week "depending on who needed supplies. And on the river, basis levels seemed to be stronger on the upper Mississippi with farmer movement slowed the past few weeks due to spring snow storms and a late opening in St. Paul."
While most soybean exports for the year have already occurred, Steenhoek said transportation logistics in Brazil have held up the seasonal switch from U.S.-origin soybeans to South American soybeans.
"It's important to remember that an operable river system is not just important for transporting what farmers produce, but it's essential for the delivery of inputs," he said. "According to the USDA, April is the No. 1 month for barge deliveries of fertilizer. These shipments originate in southern Louisiana and are destined for the Midwest."
Katie Micik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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