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Farm News & Views - November 8, 2022

Low water levels on the Mississippi River continue to be of concern to farmers who need to sell this year’s corn and soybean crops. Last week, the river dropped to a record low level, further restricting barge traffic, which is impacting crop prices for these two commodities throughout the Corn Belt and southeast. On Wednesday last week, USDA economists reported that cash bids were as much as $2 lower for soybeans, but at the same time, the cost of moving fertilizer upriver has increased considerably, and neither situation is likely to change before late winter. University of Illinois Farm Doc Daily reports that grain tonnage on the lower Mississippi during September and October was down by more than 40% from recent years, so the additional cost is being passed along to shippers, which eventually results in lower prices to farmers.

The Mississippi River Basin is the third-largest river basin in the World, behind the Amazon and Congo river basins. It collects water from 31 states through tributary rivers such as the Missouri, the longest river in the U.S., the Ohio, Arkansas, that flows out of the Colorado Rockies, and many other smaller rivers and streams along the Mississippi river course. So the low water levels in the lower Mississippi are not due to low water flows from the headwaters of the river in Minnesota, but because there is less water flowing into the Mississippi from it’s tributary rivers. For example, precipitation totals in the Ohio Valley were no more than half of the normal totals, and lack of rainfall was a big contributor to below average water flows from both the Missouri and Arkansas Rivers.

Since the 2023 water year has started, water managers in the southwestern U.S. are considering what the outlook may be for this winter and next summer. According to Dave Kanzer, Colorado River District Director of Science and Interstate Matters, the 2022 Water Year offered a slightly below-average snowpack that led into a summer that was predicted to be hot and dry, but a surprisingly robust monsoon cycle delivered consistent moisture throughout the months of July and August to some parts of the region, but the two months of average moisture, weren’t enough to offset low reservoir levels and the basin-wide drought. At this point, water storage in the reservoir system, including Lakes Mead and Powell and Upper Basin reservoirs is about 24% of average. Water managers are also concerned that studies have confirmed that across the southwest and the Colorado River Basin, the annual average snowpack is decreasing. Global models indicate that the Colorado River Basin could experience a 25% to 50% decline in snowpack by the end of the century.

With Thanksgiving coming up fast, CoBank analyst Brian Earnest is warning shoppers that highly pathogenic avian influenza has hit the heavier tom turkeys harder than hens this year, so there will be fewer large turkeys for sale in supermarkets. He’s also concerned that short supplies of turkeys will send retail turkey prices skyrocketing. According to Earnest, measured in pounds, turkey production is down 5 percent from last year and could end the year down 9.6 percent.

American philosopher Sidney Hook wrote: “To silence criticism is to silence freedom.”

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.