Moving Grain: High Water Continues to Disrupt River Traffic

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Highwater Continues to Disrupt River Traffic

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, minor flooding is forecast or occurring across the western and southern portions of the Ohio River Basin and within the lower Mississippi River Basin. The Ohio River at Cairo, IL, where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi River, has crested and is not expected by the National Weather Service to begin to fall until April 14.

Navigation on the lower Mississippi River though Vicksburg, MS, and Baton Rouge, LA, continues to be restricted to daylight only. Barge movements on the Mississippi River, in the area between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, require additional time and towboats to unload grain and return empty barges upriver due to high and fast river conditions.

With the on-going conditions, barge freight rates have been above average for several weeks. As of April 10, spot barge rates for export grain have been 60 to 121 percent above the 3-year average.

STB Welcomes Informal Discussions in Two Pending Regulatory Proceedings

On March 28, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) waived its ex parte prohibition to permit informal communications with stakeholders regarding EP 665 (Sub-No. 2), “Expanding Access to Rate Relief,” and clarified that a prohibition on ex parte communications is not applicable in EP 722, “Railroad Revenue Adequacy.”

EP 665 was initiated on August 31, 2016, seeking input on developing a new rail rate reasonableness methodology for small disputes, that would be more affordable and accessible to shippers. On April 2, 2014, STB opened EP 722 to explore the Board’s methodology for determining railroad revenue adequacy and the use of revenue adequacy, in rate reasonableness cases.

According to STB, “These decisions will facilitate informal discussions between the Board’s Rate Reform Task Force and stakeholders, which could involve issues or comments submitted in the two proceedings.

Informal discussions can help the Board obtain a more thorough understanding of the interests of stakeholders and help develop additional ideas for new rate review processes.”

Negotiators Make “Significant Progress” for New East and Gulf Coast Port Labor Agreement

On March 23, 2018, the International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL‐CIO (ILA), and United States Maritime Alliance (USMX), announced they have made significant progress on terms for a Six‐Year Master Contract. During a two-day meeting, some 50 negotiators from the two sides worked on Master Contract items.

Their goal was to present a complete contract package to the full ILA Wage Scale Delegates, sometime in the near future. A ratification vote will then be scheduled for the thousands of ILA members working at ports on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending March 29, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 37.1 mmt, up 23 percent from the same time last year. Net weekly wheat export sales were .109 mmt, down 70 percent from the previous week. Net corn export sales were .898 mmt, down 34 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales totaled 1.13 mmt, up 256 percent from the previous week.


U.S. Class I railroads originated 24,002 grain carloads for the week ending March 31, up 2 percent from the previous week, up 3 percent from last year, and up 6 percent from the 3-year average. Average April shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $475 above tariff for the week ending April 5, down $113 from last week, and $794 higher than last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


For the week ending April 7, barge grain movements totaled 629,450 tons, 10 percent lower than the previous week and down 11 percent from the same period last year.

For the week ending April 7, 395 grain barges moved down river, 47 barges less than the previous week. There were 792 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 30 percent higher than the previous week.


For the week ending April 5, 36 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 10 percent less than the same period last year. Fifty-five vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 8 percent more than the same period last year.

For the week ending April 5, the ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain from the Gulf to Japan was $44.00 per metric ton, 2 percent less than the previous week. The cost of shipping from the PNW to Japan was $24.25 per metric ton, 1 percent less than the previous week.


During the week ending April 9, average diesel fuel prices remain unchanged from the previous week at $3.04 per gallon, 46 cents higher than the same week last year.

Full report.

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