Delay in barge season is costing local farmers lots of money

Many local farmers are hurting financially because of flooding on the Mississippi River.

Normally, barge season would be well underway by now, but so far, only one barge has passed through Lock and Dam No. 7, and that was back in April.

The high water is making it too dangerous for the barges to come through, and the delay in shipping means farmers can’t get paid.

President of the Wisconsin Farmers Union Darin Von Ruden said, “Farmers are very prideful people, and we don’t like to complain, and we don’t like to go and ask for help,”

They may not say it out loud, but the delay in barge season has many local farmers worried.

“As spring bills come up, farmers like to get rid of their product,” Von Ruden said.

Most farmers aim to have their corn planted by early May, but many of them need money to make that possible.

“With us in the continued downturn that we have been for the last four or five years now, a lot of farmers are really needing that cash right now to buy their inputs, seeds, fertilizers, chemicals, things like that,” Von Ruden said.

Trains and trucks are helping to move some of their produce, but it’s not enough.

“Trains and trucks simply can’t keep up with the demand that’s out there to simply get it to the market where it needs to go,” Von Ruden said.

One 15-barge river tow has the same capacity as more than a 1,000 semis and more than 200 rail cars, according to study by Texas A&M University.

Richard Weitzel, the working supervisor of Lock and Dam No. 7, said the locks and dams in our area are ready for the barges, but the higher water is makes things dangerous. He said most boat operators don’t want to risk it.

“It just, it hasn’t been safe for them to navigate because when they’re trying to come through, there’s a higher risk for accidents. So if they get a wrong angle, they may actually take out handrails, or they may actually come up on the walls,” Weitzel said.

In the meantime, Von Ruden said farmers could also use the money for a mental boost.

“Usually farmers can look ahead and see maybe a little light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing the economics and knowing the future, especially with the trade wars, too, going on right now, there just isn’t a bright future in agriculture,” Von Ruden said.

Von Ruden said farmers are only making about 40% of what they made back in 2014, so getting that cash could really help them.

In the La Crosse area, the river’s at about11.5 feet, but it’s going to go up a little bit with this rain.

Lock and Dam No. 7 employees said one of the biggest problem areas is actually farther south around where the Illinois River meets the Mississippi River.

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