How Much Freight is Carried in the Mississippi River?

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The Mississippi River is one of the major river systems in the world, not only in terms of size but also in terms of the diversity of its habitat, and biological productivity. As the largest drainage basin in the United States and the second-longest river in all of North America, the Mississippi River is also one of the most vital commercial waterways to move freight.

How Much Freight is Carried in the Mississippi River?

Snapshot of Freight Carried on the Mississippi River

To illustrate the importance of this river in terms of the economy, in 2020, more than half of the 165.5 million tons that were transported between the 12 states that make up the Upper Mississippi System, as well as Louisiana, were carried on the Mississippi River. The amount of freight that was carried on the river to Louisiana is markedly higher for some key states:

  • Indiana – 92 percent
  • Missouri – 81 percent
  • Illinois – 80 percent
  • Kentucky – 75 percent

Most of the agricultural products that are derived from Illinois travel to ports in Louisiana via the Mississippi River. Of the 12 states that make up the Upper Mississippi System, Illinois shipped the majority of freight to Louisiana; the amount totaled 55 million tons and 44 million tons by water. Cereal grain accounted for 43 percent of the total tonnage that was shipped between Illinois and Louisiana by way of the Mississippi River, while other agricultural products accounted for 26 percent. Also in 2020, 93 percent of the cereal grain was transported between Illinois and Louisiana on the river, whereas just 6 percent of cereal grain was shipped via rail. The Mississippi River also carried another 82 percent of other types of agricultural products between Illinois and Louisiana, whereas just 15 percent were transported by rail and 3 percent were transported by truck.

Low Water Levels Constrain Freight Movement

As can be seen from the above information, the Mississippi River plays a vital role in economic activity in the United States. Large swatches of products – particularly agricultural products – are shipped by way of the Mississippi River. Of course, the ability to transport freight on the river is dependent on water levels. Both too much water caused by flooding, as well as too little water caused by drought, can have a massive impact on freight movement on the river.

Current Water Levels

At present, water levels are low on the Lower Mississippi River. The low levels are the result of minimal rainfall that caused drought conditions throughout the summer of 2022. These conditions have greatly hampered barge shipments for the fall of 2022. The key areas between Cairo, Illinois, and Memphis, Tennessee have been affected the most. Groundings, as well as the need for dredging, have shut down parts of the river and have halted freight movement for intermittent amounts of time. Furthermore, the low water levels have restricted the loads on the barges that were able to traverse the river. Moreover, the number of barges in a single tow has been restricted due to the narrower channels. In late October, rainfall that was generated by Hurricane Roselyn helped to ease the problem, but only slightly. Long-term forecasts are predicting that there will not be enough rainfall to restore the river to its full operation for several months, if not more.

The Junction LLC | Truckload Shipping

As a leader in the transportation industry, we demand excellence from our entire team. Our team at The Junction LLC strives to deliver the best possible customer service and by a desire to solve our customer’s toughest transportation and supply chain needs.

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