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Freezing weather forces record early closure of Mississippi shipping

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The blast of icy weather seen across Minnesota the past two weeks has prompted the earliest closure of the Mississippi River to freight on record.

The shipping season on the upper Mississippi was brought to a close on Thursday at St. Paul as ice has been building up on the locks and dams surrounding the Twin Cities, Reuters reports.

The river usually closes in early December, but a prolonged period of temperatures well below zero has forced the earliest closure on records dating back to 1969, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Reuters.

Although the weather should return to above freezing levels Saturday, and will stay that way through Sunday, another blast of chilly weather is on the way next week.

It means an end to an already shorter than usual shipping season on the Mississippi as the season didn't start until April 16 because of ice remaining from last winter's extreme weather, the second-latest start on record in the St. Paul District, according to Farm Futures.

The closure of the connection between the Twin Cities and the Gulf Coast spells more bad news for Minnesota farmers, who rely on the river for cheap grain transportation.

The Star Tribune reports that river transportation is the most cost effective to get harvested corn, wheat and soybean to the south of the country, where more than half of the state's grains are exported.

"The river is the cheapest way of moving our products," Minnesota Grain and Feed Association director Bob Zelenka told the newspaper. "Obviously, if we lose that option it puts a lot of pressure on our other modes of transportation."

It comes at a time when the farming industry is already struggling to secure haulage space on the state's railroads, in the face of intense competition from the commodities industry.

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