The latest surge of bitterly cold weather engulfing the Midwestern and Eastern States may cause traffic disruptions like those of the winter of 2014. Some U.S. railroads have put in place special operations plans for extreme winter weather that are expected to alleviate the worst effects of this winter. U.S. railroads originated 21,179 carloads of grain during the week ending February 7, down 13 percent from last week, but up 16 percent from last year, and 15 percent higher than the 3-year average.
Continued recent freezing temperatures, however, have built up ice that is delaying the repair activities at Mississippi River Locks 27, near St. Louis, MO. Repair work requires announced closures of the main chamber at Locks 27, but weather conditions have caused re-scheduling of the closures and may extend the completion date beyond the expected early-March time frame.
Extended periods of colder temperatures may also impact portions of the Illinois River, such as Peoria Lake, which is wider and has slower river flows that are more apt to freeze. Overall, the freezing temperatures will reduce water levels and may lower barge drafts and efficiencies.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins Lake Pepin Ice Measurements
On February 18, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, began taking this year’s Lake Pepin ice measurements, which are used predict the opening of the Upper Mississippi River. Lake Pepin, located between Red Wing and Wabasha, MN, is the last part of the navigation channel for the ice to break up because of its slower river currents. The navigation season begins when vessels pass through Lake Pepin and arrive in St. Paul, MN.
The average opening date of the navigation season in St. Paul for the last 10 years is March 24. Because of last year’s extremely cold winter, the first tow to pass through Lake Pepin and make it to St. Paul occurred on April 14, 2014. Ongoing work at Lock and Dam 5A, below Lake Pepin, until March 9, will prevent any upbound tows from reaching Lake Pepin until after the construction is complete.
At this time, no estimates are available for the opening of the navigation season on the Upper Mississippi River this year.
Mississippi Gulf Grain Inspections Rebound
For the week ending February 12, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, soybeans) from all major export regions reached 2.53 million metric tons (mmt), down 5 percent from the past week, 6 percent below last year and 7 percent above the 3-year average. Mississippi Gulf grain inspections increased 18 percent from the past week despite the decrease in total grain inspections.
Inspections of grain in the Mississippi Gulf were the highest since January 22, with an 8 and 32 percent increase in corn and soybean inspections. Pacific Northwest grain inspections dropped 30 percent from the previous week, but wheat inspections jumped 42 percent. Overall, wheat inspections increased 8 percent from the past week while corn and soybeans decreased 9 and 6 percent.
Snapshots by Sector
During the week ending February 5, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 30.6 mmt, 12 percent lower than the same time last year. Corn export sales reached 1.0 mmt, up 19 percent from the previous week. Wheat sales reached 0.409 mmt, up 3 percent, and soybeans sales, at 0.745 mmt, were up 52 percent from the previous week.
During the week ending February 12, average February shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $50 below tariff, up $42 from last week and $1,600 lower than last year. There were no non-shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers this week.
During the week ending February 14, barge grain movements totaled 632,302 tons–2 percent higher than the previous week and 12 percent higher than the same period last year. During the week ending February 14, 424 grain barges moved down river, up 16 percent from last week; 855 grain barges were unloaded in New Orleans, up 6 percent from the previous week.
During the week ending February 12, 42 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 13 percent less than the same period last year. Fifty-seven vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 25 percent less than the same period last year. During the week ending February 6, the ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain from the Gulf to Japan was $27.50 per mt, down 2 percent from the previous week. The cost of shipping from the PNW to Japan was $16 per mt, unchanged from the previous week.
During the week ending February 16, U.S. diesel fuel prices averaged $2.87 per gallon, 3 cents higher than the previous week. They were down $1.12 cents from the same week last year.