U.S. Grain Transportation: Ice Stops Barge Traffic on Illinois River

    For the week ending January 16, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat and soybeans) for export from all major port regions reached 2.72 million metric tons (mmt), down 3 percent from the previous week, 21 percent above last year this time, and 43 percent above the 3-year average.

    Despite the drop in total grain inspections, corn inspections (.757 mmt) jumped 41 percent from the past week as shipments rebounded, primarily to Latin America. Pacific Northwest and Texas Gulf inspections increased 4 and 26 percent, respectively, from the past week. Texas Gulf grain shipments increased to Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

    Mississippi Gulf grain inspections were down 10 percent from the previous week. The drop was caused primarily by the 95 percent drop in wheat inspections brought about by less demand from China as prices increased and harvest ends in South America and Australia.

    Outstanding export sales (unshipped) increased slightly from the past week for corn but decreased for wheat and soybeans.

    Harsh Winter Slows Barge Traffic

    Barge traffic on the Illinois River continues to be obstructed by ice accumulations. Illinois River Locks are operational, but with continued extremely low temperatures, barge operators have reported that traffic is at a standstill at times.

    For the first 3 weeks of the year, Ohio River grain barge movements have not been as impacted by the weather as have the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River shipments. Ohio River Locks 52 reported 874,000 tons of grain for the year, significantly higher than Mississippi River Locks 27, which moved 527,000 tons so far this year.

    Locks 27 downbound barge movements may be impacted by rock removal work located below Locks 27.

    Phase II of Mississippi River Rock Removal Project Under Way

    Contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) are re-visiting the Thebes, Ill., area to make permanent improvements to the navigation channel of the Mississippi River by removing rock formations.

    Last year, the Corps successfully removed submerged rock formations that threatened to block navigation on the Mississippi River.

    The current rock removal process will be performed in 12- to 16-hour shifts, every day except Sunday. While work is being done, barge traffic around the work sites is restricted to daylight-only movements and tows are limited to 15 barges. However, during certain phases of the project, traffic may be stopped for up to 12 hours a day.

    Work can only be done when the Cape Girardeau, Mo., river gage is near or below 10 feet.

    Snapshots by Sector

    • Rail U.S. railroads originated 20,367 carloads of grain during the week ending January 11, up 9 percent from last week and up 10 percent from last year, but down 6 percent from the 3-year average. During the week ending January 16, average February non-shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $975 above tariff, up $175 from last week. Average shuttle bids/offers were $1,737.50 per car above tariff, up $137.50 from last week, and $1,819.50 higher than last year.
    • Barge During the week ending January 18, barge grain movements totaled 494,227 tons–8 percent higher than the previous week but 7 percent lower than the same period last year. During the week ending January 18, 303 grain barges moved down river , up 10.6 percent from last week; 888 grain barges were unloaded in New Orleans , up 18.6 percent from the previous week.
    • Ocean During the week ending January 16, 50 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 108 percent more than the same period last year. Eighty-eight vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 52 percent more than the same period last y ear. During the week ending January 17, the ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain from the Gulf to Japan was $56.50 per mt, down 1 percent from the previous week. The cost of shipping from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $28. per mt, down 2 percent from t he previous week.
    • Fuel During the week ending January 20, U.S. average diesel fuel prices decreased 1 cent from the previous week to $3.87 per gallon– down 3 cents from with the same week last year.

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