Rain Impacts Houston Ship Channel
On May 29, flood levels and record setting water currents coming from the San Jacinto River caused a closure of the Houston Ship Channel (HSC) after 12 barges broke free. In 2015, the Port of Houston ranked 3rd in the nation for total waterborne agricultural exports and 11th for containerized exports.
More than 6.4 million metric tons of agricultural exports moved through the port in 2015, consisting of 83 percent percent bulk and 17 percent container. The top agricultural commodity moved in bulk was grain; the top by container was grocery items.
On May 30, the HSC was reopened to ships, but restricted for barge traffic. Most barge traffic is for petroleum products. Portions of the Houston area have had record flooding and are expecting an additional 5 to 8 inches of rain this week. The rainfall causing widespread flooding in Texas has not had significant impact on the Mississippi River System.
River levels on the Mississippi River have been above average for most of 2016, although a section of the Upper Mississippi River near Dubuque, IA, was closed on May 27 due to low water and silting. The section was dredged and reopened on May 31.
Panama Canal Suspends Third Draft Restrictions
On May 15, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced the suspension of the third draft restrictions until further notice due to the arrival of the rainy season, and based on the current and projected level of Gatun Lake. The restrictions had been previously postponed until June 6 and had originally been scheduled to take effect May 9 (see 05/19/16 Grain Transportation Report).
The maximum authorized transit draft will remain at 11.74 meters (38.5 feet). The ACP pledged to continue monitoring the level of Gatun Lake, adjust, and announce any draft restrictions in a timely manner.
Grain Inspections Down but Wheat and Soybean Inspections Up
For the week ending May 26, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, soybeans) for export reached 1.49 million metric tons (mmt), down 3 percent from the past week, up 2 percent from last year, and unchanged from the 3-year average. Despite the decrease in total grain inspected, wheat and soybean inspections increased 64 and 107 percent from the previous week.
Wheat and soybean shipments increased mainly to Latin America and Asia. Corn inspection, however dropped 31 percent from the previous week, as shipments– primarily those to Latin America–decreased.
Total inspections of grain increased 15 percent from the past week in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) but dropped 22 percent in the Mississippi Gulf. Outstanding export sales (unshipped) of grain were down for wheat, but up the second consecutive week for corn and soybeans.
Snapshots by Sector
During the week ending May 19, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 20 mmt, up 21 percent from the same time last year. Net weekly wheat export sales were down notably from the previous week. Net corn export sales were 1.38 mmt, down 6 percent from the previous week, and net soybean export sales were .457 mmt, down 17 percent from the past week.
U.S. Class I railroads originated 19,196 grain carloads for the week ending May 21, up 4 percent from the previous week, down 3 percent from last year, and up 4 percent from the 3-year average. Average June shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $113 below tariff for the week ending May 26, up $13 from last week, and $267 higher than last year. There were no non-shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers this week.
For the week ending May 28, barge grain movements totaled 841,449 tons, 1 percent lower than last week, and up 26 percent from the same period last year.
For the week ending May 28, 549 grain barges moved down river, up 2 percent from last week; 465 grain barges were unloaded in New Orleans, down 7 percent from the previous week.
For the week ending May 26, 28 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 20 percent less than the same period last year. Fifty vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 28 percent more than the same period last year.
For the week ending May 26, the ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain from the Gulf to Japan was $27.25 per metric ton, up 3 percent from the previous week. The cost of shipping from the PNW to Japan was $16.50 per metric ton, up 3 percent from the previous week.
During the week ending May 30, U.S. average diesel fuel prices increased 2 cents from the previous week at $2.38 per gallon, down $0.53 from the same week last year.