Moving Grain: High Water Delays Continue in Mississippi River-Gulf

    ©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

    High Water Continues to Delay Barge Operations in the Mississippi River-Gulf

    Flooding and high water conditions in the lower Mississippi River near Baton Rouge, and surrounding areas, continues to cause delays in barge operations. Slower transit times, due to adverse navigation conditions, have caused traffic congestion in the area. The barge industry has added tow boats while reducing the number of barges towed per boat, to adjust operations to the fast and high river conditions.

    Daylight-only transits remain through Vicksburg and Baton Rouge bridges. The barge industry expects delays to persist for the foreseeable future. Barge spot rates, for export grain from major originating points, have fluctuated for several weeks. However, spot rates are currently 37 to 70 percent higher than the 3-year average, due to higher operating costs.

    Strong Demand and Service Challenges Drive Up Secondary Shuttle Rates

    Average May shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $600 above tariff for the week ending April 26, down $92 from last week, and $881 higher than last year. As this week’s feature article discusses, rates have generally increased in the secondary market since January.

    Trucks, barges, and railroads have faced service challenges in the first quarter of 2018, limiting the availability of transportation options, which could boost premiums for guaranteed rail freight. At the same time, exports out of the Pacific Northwest (which are largely rail-supplied) have been strong, suggesting that demand for rail transportation for grain is up.

    For the week ending April 21, U.S. Class I railroads originated 25,938 grain carloads. That number is 30 percent above the 3-year average, a near-record for April and exceeding all weekly totals in 2017, and so far in 2018. The last time weekly grain carloads were this high in April was in 2008.

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    Soybean Inspections Increase but Total Exports Recede

    For the week ending April 26, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.5 million metric tons (mmt) down 13 percent from the previous week, up 9 percent from last year, and 18 percent above the 3-year average.

    Total inspections of grain decreased, despite a 33 percent increase in inspections of soybeans which were shipped primarily to Asia. The increase in soybean inspections, could not offset the 42 percent drop in inspections of wheat, and the 16 percent decrease in inspections of corn.

    Total Pacific Northwest (PNW) grain inspections decreased 24 percent from week to week, and Mississippi Gulf inspections decreased 5 percent for the same period. Current outstanding export sales are down for corn, wheat, and soybeans.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending April 19, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 35 mmt, up 29 percent from the same time last year. Net weekly wheat export sales were .297 mmt, up significantly from the previous week. Net corn export sales were .697 mmt, down 36 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales totaled .371 mmt, down 64 percent from the previous week.


    For the week ending April 28, barge grain movements totaled 739,350 tons, 13 percent higher than the previous week, and down 11 percent from the same period last year.

    For the week ending April 28, 473 grain barges moved down river, 21 barges more than the previous week. There were 656 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 7 percent lower than the previous week.


    For the week ending April 26, 31 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 11 percent less than the same period last year. Forty-three vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 7 percent less than the same period last year.

    For the week ending April 26, the ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain from the Gulf to Japan was $44.25 per metric ton, up 1 percent from the previous week. The cost of shipping from the PNW to Japan was $24.00 per metric ton, unchanged from the previous week.


    For the week ending April 30, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 2 cents from the previous week at $3.16 per gallon, 57 cents higher than the same week last year.

    Containerized Grain Exports

    Containerized grain exports to Asia in February were just over 48,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU); 4.6 percent higher than the previous year, 6 percent lower than the 5-year average, and 32 percent higher than January movements.

    Full report.

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