Moving Grain: Flooding on Mississippi River Delays Barges

©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

Corps Opens Bonnet Carré Spillway to Prevent Flooding in New Orleans

Heavy rains have caused high water levels and flooding on portions of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, triggering navigation restrictions that have delayed barge traffic throughout the system.

On February 27, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway, located 28 miles north of New Orleans, in an effort to decrease flood conditions through the New Orleans region and reduce flood risk to the city and surrounding areas.

Operation of the spillway diverts Mississippi River floodwaters, via Lake Pontchartrain, into the Gulf of Mexico. Current projections indicate the spillway may be open for a month. The Mississippi River Basin drains 40 percent of the continental United States. Corps officials report that portions of the Mississippi River Basin have seen the wettest winter in 124 years.

Additionally, the Corps noted spring rains and snow melt could bring more water in the coming months.

BNSF Announces Capital Plan for 2019

On February 13, BNSF Railway (BNSF) announced its plans to spend $3.57 billion in capital expenditures in 2019, up 5 percent from last year. About $2.47 billion will be spent on replacing and maintaining the core network, including replacing/upgrading rail and track infrastructure and maintaining rolling stock.

In addition, approximately $0.76 billion has been allocated for expansion and efficiency projects, with most expansion projects planned for its Northern and Southern cross-country routes that connect the Pacific Northwest to Upper Midwest and Southern California to Chicago. Finally, about $0.34 billion is for freight cars, locomotives, and other equipment acquisitions.

BNSF has invested nearly $65 billion in its network since 2000.

Increased Wheat and Soybean Inspections Boost Total

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For the week ending February 21, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.84 million metric tons (mmt), which is up 19 percent from the previous week, up 15 percent from last year, and up 4 percent from the 3-year average.

The increase in total inspections of grain was helped by a 91 percent rebound in wheat inspections and a 27 percent increase in soybean inspections. Corn inspections were the lowest since early January, falling 20 percent from week to week.

Pacific Northwest (PNW) grain inspections jumped 55 percent from the previous week, as shipments to Asia rebounded and Mississippi Gulf grain inspections increased 5 percent, for the same period.

Snapshots by Sector

Rail

U.S. Class I railroads originated 21,302 grain carloads for the week ending February 16, up 3 percent from the previous week, down 1 percent from last year, and down 4 percent from the 3-year average.

Average March shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $1,313 above tariff for the week ending February 21, up $913 from last week, and up $244 from last year. Average non-shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $250 above tariff, up $100 from last week. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week last year.

Barge

For the week ending February 23, barge grain movements totaled 389,722 tons, 3 percent more than the previous week and down 7 percent from the same period last year.

For the week ending February 23, 244 grain barges moved down river, 25 barges more than the previous week. There were 633 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 15 percent lower than the previous week.

Ocean

For the week ending February 21, 35 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 5 percent more than the same period last year. Sixty-five vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 16 percent more than the same period last year.

For the week ending February 21, the ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain, from the Gulf to Japan, was $39.25 per metric ton, 1 percent more than the previous week. The cost of shipping, from the PNW to Japan, was $22.25 per metric ton, 1 percent more than the previous week.

Fuel

For the week ending February 25, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 4.2 cents, from the previous week, to $3.048 per gallon, 4.1 cents above the same week last year.

Full report.


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