Moving Grain: High Water Continues to Disrupt Barge Traffic

High Water Continues to Disrupt Barge Traffic

Beginning in late February, heavy rainfall in the Mississippi and Ohio River Basins has resulted in significant flooding at locations near important inland waterway infrastructure vital to the movement of U.S. grains by barge, including: Paducah, KY, Cairo, IL, Memphis, TN, Greenville, Vicksburg and Natchez, MS, and Baton Rouge, LA.

As of March 8, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) reports that Smithland Lock and Dam on the lower Ohio River, near Smithland, KY, is currently closed. Barge traffic is also restricted to daylight passage at Vicksburg and Memphis and barge tow sizes have been reduced from 40 to 30 barges on the lower Mississippi River.

Navigation restrictions are set by the Waterway Action Plan, a joint effort of the U.S. Coast Guard, Corps, and senior leaders of the towing industry. For the week ending March 6, barge rates for export grain at major originating locations had a weekly increase of 22 to 34 percent due to the disruptions.

Agricultural Exceptions and Exemptions to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Rules

On February 28, 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) updated their “Agricultural Exceptions and Exemptions to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Hours of Service (HOS) and Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Rules” webpage.

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The updated site provides clarification on when farm, ranch, and agriculture haulers are subject to FMCSA’s rules and regulations, including electronic logging devices (ELD). Interested parties can sign up for updates and alerts, regarding agricultural operations information here, and ask additional questions by email at agricultural@dot.gov.

Total Grain Inspections Remains Unchanged

For the week ending March 1, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.40 million metric tons (mmt); unchanged from the previous week, down 10 percent from last year, and 14 percent below the 3-year average. Inspections of wheat and soybeans jumped 69 and 20 percent, respectively, from the previous week.

Shipments of wheat increased to Asia and Latin America, and soybean exports increased to Asia and Europe. Corn inspections decreased 28 percent from the past week, after increasing for the last two weeks.

Pacific Northwest (PNW) grain inspections decreased 49 percent from the prior week, but Mississippi Gulf inspections increased 15 percent. Outstanding (unshipped) export sales of corn continued to increase, as wheat and soybean sales decreased.

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending February 22, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 34 mmt, down 1 percent from the same time last year. Net weekly wheat export sales were .191 mmt, down 42 percent from the previous week. Net corn export sales were 1.75 mmt, up 13 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales reached .858 mmt, up significantly for the same period.

Rail

U.S. Class I railroads originated 20,143 grain carloads for the week ending February 24; down 6 percent from the previous week, down 5 percent from last year, and down 8 percent from the 3-year average.

Average March shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $717 above tariff for the week ending March 1; down $352 from last week, and $1,542 lower than last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.

Barge

For the week ending March 3, barge grain movements totaled 386,530 tons, 8 percent lower than the previous week and down 53 percent from the same period last year.

For the week ending March 3, 252 grain barges moved down river, down 5 percent from last week. There were 751 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 6 percent lower the previous week.

Ocean

For the week ending March 1, 41 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 13 percent less than the same period last year. Fifty-three vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 17 percent less than the same period last year.

For the week ending March 1, the ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain from the Gulf to Japan was $44.50 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, up 1 percent from the previous week.

Fuel

During the week ending March 5, average diesel fuel prices decreased 2 cents from the previous week at $2.99 per gallon, 41 cents higher than the same week last year.

Full report.


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