River Conditions Generally Improve Except for the Lower Mississippi River
As of March 29, navigation conditions have improved with receding river levels on the locking portions of the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio, and Arkansas rivers. However, as a result of a backlog of traffic on the lower Ohio River, there is congestion and longer transit times at Cairo, IL, where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi River.
Downbound barge traffic, on the lower Mississippi River, is restricted to daylight only at Vicksburg, MS, and Baton Rouge, LA. Barge movements in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans area have slowed due to high and fast river conditions, requiring additional towboats to unload grain and return empty barges back upriver.
As of March 27, the weekly change in spot barge rates for export grain has increased 3 percent on the Illinois River, 5 percent on the Upper Mississippi River at Davenport, IA, 10 percent at St Louis, MO, and 17 percent on the Ohio and lower Mississippi rivers.
STB to Hold Informal Meetings on Directed Service Regulations for Rail Service Challenges
On March 15, 2018, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) announced it will hold informal public meetings to gather feedback on the adequacy of the Board’s current regulations regarding emergency service and service inadequacies. The STB’s existing directed service regulations are rarely used, even in times of rail service deterioration. STB is interested in exploring whether, and how, its directed service regulations need to be modified, to offer more meaningful relief in times of serious service challenges.
Interested stakeholders are encouraged to share their views, experiences, and ideas for improving the directed service regulations. The informal meetings are not part of a formal proceeding, and official transcripts or minutes will not be prepared. Meeting times will be available in April, May, and June 2018.
Interested persons should contact the Rail Customer and Public Assistance office (202-245-0238) to schedule individual meeting times or if they have related questions. See STB’s official announcement for additional information.
Grain News on AgFax
Grain Inspections Down but Soybeans Increase
For the week ending March 22, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.0 million metric tons (mmt); down 16 percent from the previous week, down 25 percent from last year, and 14 percent below the 3-year average. Lower wheat and corn inspections drove the decrease in total grain inspections.
Soybean inspections, however, increased 17 percent from the previous week, as shipments to Asia rebounded. Mississippi Gulf grain inspections decreased 27 percent from the previous week, and Pacific Northwest (PNW) grain inspections decreased 8 percent for the same period. Current outstanding (unshipped) export sales continued to increase for corn and soybeans, but decreased for wheat.
Snapshots by Sector
For the week ending March 15, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 37.7 mmt, up 18 percent from the same time last year. Net weekly wheat export sales were .265 mmt, up 63 percent from the previous week. Net corn export sales were 1.47 mmt, down 41 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales totaled .759 mmt, down 40 percent from the previous week.
U.S. Class I railroads originated 23,682 grain carloads for the week ending March 17, up 3 percent from the previous week, 2 percent from last year, and 5 percent from the 3-year average. Average April shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $456 above tariff for the week ending March 22, up $219 from last week, and $238 higher than last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.
For the week ending March 24, barge grain movements totaled 976,375 tons, 16 percent higher than the previous week and down 8 percent from the same period last year.
For the week ending March 24, 590 grain barges moved down river, 53 barges more than the previous week. There were 560 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 2 percent lower than the previous week.
For the week ending March 22, 35 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 21 percent less than the same period last year. Fifty-three vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 2 percent more than the same period last year.
For the week ending March 22, the ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain from the Gulf to Japan was $45.25 per metric ton, unchanged from the previous week. The cost of shipping from the PNW to Japan was $24.50 per metric ton, unchanged from the previous week.
During the week ending March 26, average diesel fuel prices increased 4 cents from the previous week to $3.01 per gallon, 43 cents higher than the same week last year.