Moving Grain: Unofficial Start of Upper Mississippi River Navigation Season

    Barges on Mississippi River. ©Debra L Ferguson

    USACE Announced the Unofficial Start of the 2022 Navigation Season on the Upper Mississippi River

    On March 21, the 2022 navigation season on the Upper Mississippi River began, as announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Originating from St. Louis, MO, and pushing nine barges, the Motor Vessel W. Red Harris kicked off the season’s unofficial start: that boat was the first of the season to break through the ice of Lake Pepin (between Mississippi River Lock and Dam 3 and Lock and Dam 4).

    Lake Pepin is the last major barrier for vessels reaching the head of the navigation channel in St. Paul, MN. For the past 30 years, the season’s average opening date has been March 20, but the date varies from year to year, depending on water conditions.

    USDA Partners With NWSA To Enhance Agricultural Exports

    On March 18, USDA announced a partnership with the Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) to enhance access to a 49-acre “pop up” site at NWSA in Seattle. To reduce operational hurdles and costs, the site will start accepting both dry and refrigerated agricultural containers for temporary storage.

    From their new positions on the pop-up site, the containers can be more quickly loaded on ships at the export terminals. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will make payments to agricultural companies and cooperatives that use the NWSA pop-up site for containers filled with American-grown agricultural commodities.

    FSA payments of $200 per dry container and $400 per refrigerated container will help cover additional logistical costs—including drayage and storage—of using the site. Encompassing the marine cargo operations of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, WA, NWSA is the second-largest container gateway for containerized agricultural exports from the United States.

    Canadian Pacific Resumes Operations

    Ending a work stoppage that lasted 2 full days, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) agreed to settle their labor dispute through binding arbitration. Work across the railroad’s Canadian operations had stopped on Sunday, March 20, and resumed at 2 pm EDT on Tuesday, March 22.

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    CP is a major supplier of fertilizer, especially potash, to the United States and abroad. Global potash supplies have declined since producers in Russia and Belarus effectively stopped exporting the commodity following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Because some producers prepositioned fertilizer before the stoppage and the stoppage lasted only 2 days, its impacts on potash production and delivery should be limited.

    Still, some disruptions should be expected. On Tuesday, CP said it would work with customers to resume normal train operations across Canada as soon as possible.

    FMC Announces Ocean Carrier Audit Program Will Focus on Export Service

    On March 21, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) announced its Vessel-Operating Common Carrier (VOCC) audit program will expand to evaluate carriers’ export performance and service. FMC will meet with 11 carriers to discuss their export programs and identify opportunities to improve or increase access to service offerings for exporters.

    In July 2021, the VOCC audit program was originally established to assess ocean carrier compliance with the FMC’s rule on demurrage and detention. The program was also created to gather information to aid FMC’s continuous monitoring of ocean cargo services.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending March 10, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans for marketing year 2021/22 totaled 38.5 million metric tons (mmt), down 11 percent from the same time last year and up 3 percent from the previous week.

    Net corn export sales were 1.836 mmt, down 14 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were 1.253 mmt, down 43 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales were 0.146 mmt, down 53 percent from the previous week.


    U.S. Class I railroads originated 21,213 grain carloads during the week ending March 12. This was a 15-percent decrease from the previous week, 11 percent fewer than last year, and 1 percent more than the 3-year average.

    Average April shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $2,313 above tariff for the week ending March 17. This was $1,238 more than last week and $2,095 more than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


    For the week ending March 19, barged grain movements totaled 693,000 tons. This was 22 percent more than the previous week and 4 percent less than the same period last year.

    For the week ending March 19, 420 grain barges moved down river—54 more barges than the previous week. There were 639 grain barges unloaded in the New Orleans region, 6 percent fewer than last week.


    For the week ending March 17, 34 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—8 percent fewer than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting March 18), 59 vessels were expected to be loaded—5 percent more than the same period last year.

    As of March 10, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $74.50. This was 6 percent less than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $42.75 per mt, 3 percent less than the previous week.


    For the week ending March 21, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 11.6 cents from the previous week to $5.134 per gallon, 194 cents above the same week last year.

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