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Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network.

Icy Rivers in Midwest Impeding Grain Bound for Export

File/Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media
MFA Agriservices workers monitor the soybean chute in 2015 as a barge destined for the Mississippi River fills up on the Missouri River in Glasgow, Missouri.

The recent frigid weather across the Midwest has slowed river barges carrying grain to shipment ports, especially those destined for the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi, Ohio, and Illinois rivers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in the first two weeks of 2018, barges have carried about 60 percent less grain compared to last year, due to heavy ice buildups. That poses a problem for farmers trying to move their grain to New Orleans for export.

“For soybeans, it's particularly acute because 80 percent of our exports occur between the months of September and February,” says Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. “So this is a real key time, an opportune time, for us to meet that international demand.”

He adds that farmers fear if U.S. grain is held up too long, international markets, like China, instead will buy grain from other countries, like Argentina and Brazil.

Credit Erica Hunzinger / Harvest Public Media
Piles of grain are covered at a grain elevator just outside of Adrian, Missouri, in the west-central part of the state.

Bountiful harvests this year and last for corn and soybeans has led to a a 30-year high of stockpiled grain and not much room for storage, so farmers are having to sell grain at lower prices or risk losing their product to rot.

It really shows that when you've got one of those supply-chain challenges like we have right now, farmers are the ones who pay for it,” Steenhoek says.

There’s also a slowdown in the two other ways grain is shipped: Railway transportation dipped by 9 percent from last year and diesel prices for truck transportation are up to more than $3 a gallon.

Temperatures are rising across the Midwest, but transportation delays are still expected.

“There’s some resilience to these ice accumulations,” Steenhoek says. “So we're expecting this to remain the case — these impeded navigation conditions — for a number of days and maybe even a number of weeks.”

Follow Kris on Twitter: @krishusted

Kristofor Husted is a senior reporter at KBIA in Columbia, Mo. Previously Husted reported for NPR’s Science Desk in Washington and Harvest Public Media. Husted was a 2013 fellow with the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources and a 2015 fellow for the Institute for Journalism and Justice. He’s won regional and national Edward R. Murrow, PRNDI and Sigma Delta Chi awards. Husted also is an instructor at the Missouri School of Journalism. He received a B.S. in cell biology from UC Davis and an M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University.