Just a few years after major flooding suspended shipping on the Mississippi River, the opposite problem now plagues the popular shipping route: drought. Because water levels are at their lowest in recent memory, companies that rely on the river are forced to turn to alternative solutions to meet their shipping needs.
For example, National Public Radio recently reported that agriculture conglomerate Cargill now has to load 3,000 to 4,000 fewer bushels of grain onto its barges as a result of low water levels, making the company less equipped to meet global food demands.
"There were fears that shipping on this crucial cargo route could come to a halt as early as this week, when water levels reach historic lows," NPR's Renee Montagne said. "But the Army Corps of Engineers says the river will likely stay open for shipping at least until the end of the month. Still, many businesses that send products up and down the river remain concerned about what the future holds."
Two of the biggest issues facing companies who have relied on the Mississippi River for keeping their supply chain moving, according to NPR, is a lack of certainty and few alternatives. While water levels are high enough to keep barge traffic moving now, businesses are uncertain how long they can keep turning to shipping barges this year. In addition, available shipping alternatives - namely trucking and freight trains - are either too costly or impractical for businesses with operations reliant on barge traffic.
To Mitigate Drought Risks, Turn to Supply Chain Software
While companies cannot predict when a drought or other natural disaster might occur, businesses can better prepare and plan for such events. The key, according to industry expert Danny Halim, is that companies need to adopt a more proactive approach to managing their supply chain and shipping routes. He wrote in an Inbound Logistics article that while the negative effects brought about as a result of a drought or other similar event cannot be totally mitigated, they can be effectively reduced.
In particular, companies can use automated data collection methods to help them better plan and mitigate the effects of a natural disaster. Take for instance a Mississippi River barge shipping cargo from Iowa to New Orleans. If water levels are too low for ships to pass around St. Louis, then the automated data collection system can, in real time, show a company that its supply chain has been disrupted. By using supply chain software to assess its shipping routes, a company can more quickly prepare an alternative route to keep operations running as smoothly as possible.