To help ease the barge crunch in the busy harvest season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently made $7.6 million available to unload barges loaded with grain that were stranded in the New Orleans area following Hurricane Katrina. The cargoes were contaminated with rain and floodwater from the storm.
In order to qualify, barges must have been loaded with grain and shipped to the New Orleans area before Aug. 29, when Katrina made landfall. Barges must be unloaded by Dec. 1 unless the USDA issues an extension. The goal is to quickly move empty barges upriver to areas where grain is being harvested. The funding is only available to unload barges loaded with farm commodities.
Farmers need barges immediately to get their crops out before cold temperatures close some sections of the Mississippi to shipping. But barge availability, which was extremely tight before the storm, was made worse with the barges lost to Katrina. As a result, farmers are scrambling to get their crops to market. There are reports of crops piled on the ground waiting to be loaded onto barges for the trip to New Orleans, where grain is transferred to ships at the Port of South Louisiana for export.
“USDA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Coast Guard have been working aggressively to help the transportation system return to normal as quickly as possible along the Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina,” USDA Secretary Mike Johanns said in a release. “It is critically important to have barges available during peak grain harvest season and our goal is to quickly unload barges so they can be reloaded with newly harvested grains.”
To make matters worse, the Midwest is suffering from one of its worst droughts in years, which resulted in low water levels along the Ohio and Upper Mississippi rivers, before Katrina hit.
— Ken Hocke