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Drought Affects Barge Traffic, Food Prices

December 5, 2012, 10:00 PM by Hailey Higgins

Drought Affects Barge Traffic, Food Prices

The drought could take another bite out of your pocketbook as the low Mississippi River hurts barge traffic.

The impact could be felt at the grocery store as experts say it will cost more to ship raw ingredients to food manufacturers.

It's hard to ignore the climbing price of food at the grocery store. Sharon Krutsch pays more each trip she makes.

"Cereal, it is a little up each time even when it is on sale. So you really have to watch the sales," Krutsch said.

And the drought could make it even worse. The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are at the center of a bind that could further drive up food prices for shoppers.

Already approaching historic lows, the Mississippi river has dropped to 13 feet because it's purposefully receiving less water from the Missouri River at Gavins Point Dam near Yankton.

The low flow is slowing down barge traffic on the Mississippi. At least two large companies are reducing loads because of the shallow water.

Hy-Vee Store Manager Bob Trader says the added cost to ship the raw goods by truck instead of barge will be noticeable.

"There is going to be extra transportation costs," Trader said at the store on 49th Street and Louise Avenue. "But the good news for the consumer is that it is so far down the line in the supply chain with raw materials that it does get diluted quite a bit before it gets to our stores."

Because of the trickle-down effect, Trader expects prices to rise across the country by the spring.

"You're probably talking pennies rather than dollars," Trader said. "Pennies add up, I understand that, but it's a little more palatable."

And while Krutsch doesn't like the idea of paying more for food, she says she'll continue to shop smart.

"You have to watch sales because you just have to now a days," Krutsch said. 

There could be good news, however. A revised Mississippi River forecast shows the water level isn't dropping as quickly as feared. 

But the river still could dip to just nine feet deep by the end of the month, prompting further barge traffic restrictions.

The average depth of the river is 150 feet.

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