Mississippi farmers may have survived one drought challenge only to face another as reduced river levels threaten a key transportation option.

Three exceptionally hot, dry weeks in June were taking a toll on the state’s crops when unseasonal July rains brought relief in time to salvage most fields. While Mississippi growers are not experiencing anything close to the dry conditions found across the nation’s Corn Belt, problems from the lack of water up north have trickled down to produce near-record lows on the Mississippi River.

Coahoma County Extension director Don Respess said some farmers plan to shell corn at higher-than-normal moisture levels to speed up the 2012 harvest.

“Farmers are worried about the river getting so low that they cannot load barges,” he said. “They can still truck it out, but barge traffic is the cheapest way to move grain.”

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Respess said to prevent spoilage, growers will either spend more money to dry corn or watch their crop value drop because of the high moisture content.

“Harvesting earlier will increase the growers’ cost, but that might not be as bad as having full bins and nowhere to send it,” he said. “The bottom line is growers will get less money in their pockets.”

Respess said the state’s agricultural industry uses not only ports at Memphis, Greenville and Vicksburg, but also smaller sites, such as Rosedale and Friars Point in Mississippi and Helena in Arkansas.

Robert Maxwell, director of the Port of Rosedale in Bolivar County, said 1.5 million tons went through that port in 2011. Most of the cargo was agriculture-related — about a third was fertilizer and other farm chemicals coming in, and the rest was farm produce going out.