U.S. Grain Transportation: Corn, Wheat Inspections Increase Markedly

For the week ending January 15, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, soybeans) from all major export regions reached 2.6 million metric tons (mmt), down 4 percent from the past week and 5 percent from last year, but 36 percent above the 3-year average.

Although wheat and corn inspections increased 35 and 47 percent from the past week, the increases could not offset the 21-percent drop in total soybean inspections.

Mississippi Gulf grain inspections decreased 14 percent from the previous week as demand for soybeans dropped. Inspections in the Pacific Northwest, however, increased 35 percent as wheat and soybean shipments increased through that port region.

Bulk Ocean Freight Rates Continued to Slide

Ocean freight rates for shipping bulk grains continued their fall into the new year.

As of January 16, ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $35 per metric ton (mt), down 10 percent from the beginning of the year and 38 percent from the same period a year ago. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $19.50 per mt, 7 percent less than the beginning of the year, and 30 percent less than the same period last year. Falling ocean freight rates could be partly due to slow market activity and excess vessel supply.

Panama Canal Expansion 85 Percent Complete

On Jan. 19, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced that the Canal expansion is 85 percent complete. The expansion project will create a new lane of traffic along the Canal through the construction of a new set of locks, doubling the waterway’s capacity.

The existing locks allow the passage of vessels that can carry up to 5,000 TEUs. After the expansion, the Post-Panamax vessels will be able to transit through the Canal, with up to 13,000 TEUs.

Part of the completion of the final phase of the project involves the installation of 16 gates at the new lock chambers. Currently 3 of the 16 new lock gates have been installed.

The expanded canal is expected to be operational by early 2016.

Snapshots by Sector

  • Export Sales During the week ending January 8, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 33 mmt, 10 percent lower than at the same time last year. Corn export sales reached .819 mmt, significantly higher than last week, but 10 percent lower than the prior 4-week average. Wheat reached 0.285 mmt, up 89 percent, and soybeans, at 1.13 mmt, were up 24 percent from the previous week.
  • Rail U.S. railroads originated 21,916 carloads of grain during the week ending January 10, down 5 percent from last week, up 8 percent from last year, and 11 percent above the 3-year average. During the week ending January 15, average February shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $450 below tariff, down $250 from last week and $2,188 lower than last year. There were no non-shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers.
  • Barge During the week ending January 17, barge grain movements totaled 478,818 tons–18 percent lower than the previous week and 3 percent lower than the same period last year. During the week ending January 17, 283 grain barges moved down river, down 19.4 percent from last week; 851 grain barges were unloaded in New Orleans, down 12.3 percent from the previous week.
  • Ocean During the week ending January 15, 42 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 16 percent less than the same period last year. Sixty-five vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 26 percent less than the same period last year. During the week ending January 16, the ocean freight rate for ship ping bulk grain from the Gulf to Japan was $35 per mt, down 4 percent from the previous week. The cost of shipping from the PNW to Japan was $19.50 per mt, down 3 percent from the previous week.
  • Fuel During the week ending January 19, U.S. average diesel fuel prices decreased 12 cents from the previous week to $2.93 per gallon. They were down 94 cents from the same week last year.

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