Moving Grain: Corn Barge Movements Near 9-Year High

©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

Weekly Upper Mississippi River Corn Barge Movements Near 9-year High

For the week ending June 16, downbound corn barge shipments through Mississippi River Locks 27 (located near St. Louis, MO) totaled 745 thousand tons, the highest weekly volume for Locks 27 since the week ending August 1, 2009. This reflects an increased demand for corn barge shipments, as well as the much improved navigation conditions on the Upper Mississippi River, during the first half of June.

However, high water conditions have returned to northern portion of the Upper Mississippi River (St. Paul, MN to Rock Island, IL) and will likely result in some disruptions of barge traffic.

Elsewhere on the inland waterways, disruptions on the Ohio River are expected to occur as recurrent operational difficulties at Locks and Dam 52 (Brookport, IL) may halt traffic for several days, starting on or about June 23. Locks and Dam 52 will be replaced with Olmsted Locks and Dam that is scheduled to be operational in the second half of 2018.

Bulk Ocean Freight Rates Remain Fairly Stable

Despite bullish market sentiments by vessel owners, ocean freight rates for shipping bulk commodities—including grains—have remained relatively stable, since the beginning of the year. Rates have been fluctuating within a two dollar range. As of June 14, the rate for shipping grain, from the U.S. Gulf to Japan, was $44 per metric ton (mt), 2 percent more than the beginning of the year.

The rate from the Pacific Northwest (PNW) to Japan was $25 per mt, 4 percent more than the beginning of the year. As of January 4, the Gulf-to-Japan rate was $43 per mt; and the PNW-to-Japan rate was $24 per mt. So far, the demand for bulk vessels has not caught up with the supply.

Corn and Soybeans Push Grain Inspections Higher

For the week ending June 14, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.9 million metric tons (mmt); up 15 percent from the previous week, up 27 percent from last year, and 53 percent above the 3-year average. Increased inspections were helped by a 18 percent increase in corn inspections and a 27 percent jump in soybean inspections.

Pacific Northwest (PNW) grain inspections increased 19 percent from the past week, as demand from Asia increased, and Mississippi Gulf inspections increased 21 percent; due primarily to increased shipments to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Outstanding export sales are down for corn, wheat, and soybeans.

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Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending June 7, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 29 mmt, up 22 percent from the same time last year. Net weekly wheat export sales were .302 mmt, up significantly from the previous week. Net corn export sales were .936 mmt, up 12 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were .520 mmt, up 215 percent from the previous week.

Rail

U.S. Class I railroads originated 23,347 grain carloads for the week ending June 9, up 4 percent from the previous week and last year, and up 15 percent from the 3-year average.

Average June shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $363 above tariff for the week ending June 14, up $200 from last week. There were no shuttle bids/offers this week last year and no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.

Barge

For the week ending June 16, barge grain movements totaled 1,191,930 tons, 18 percent higher than the previous week and up 110 percent from the same period last year.

For the week ending June 16, 759 grain barges moved down river, 110 barges more than the previous week. There were 615 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 27 percent lower than the previous week.

Ocean

For the week ending June 14, 30 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 17 percent less than the same period last year. Forty-seven vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 13 percent less than the same period last year.

For the week ending June 14, the ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain, from the Gulf to Japan, was $44.00 per metric ton, 2 percent more than the previous week. The cost of shipping, from the PNW to Japan, was $25.00 per metric ton, 2 percent more than the previous week.

Fuel

For the week ending June 18, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 2 cents from the previous week, to $3.24 per gallon, 76 cents higher than the same week last year.

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