Grain Transportation: Flooding Stops MS River Traffic

Flooding Stops Traffic on Upper Mississippi River

Widespread flooding on the inland waterways continues to disrupt grain barge shipments. As of March 28, the following Upper Mississippi River Locks are closed: 16-18 and 20-22. In addition, Mississippi River traffic is stopped between Locks 22 and 24 due to highwater preventing barge passage under a bridge near Louisiana, MO.

Mississippi River traffic is restricted to daylight hours through St. Louis, MO, Memphis, TN, Vicksburg, MS, and Baton Rouge, LA. While some locks may reopen by early April, the National Weather Service indicates the Mississippi River will likely remain above flood stage into May.

Peak flows are expected to occur from mid to late April. As of March 23, year-to-date grain traffic on the locking portions of the Mississippi, Ohio, and Arkansas rivers is 5.5 million tons, 16 percent lower than the same period last year.

Railroads Make Progress Repairing Track; Some Outages Remain

Midwest flooding continues to significantly affect railroads. BNSF Railway (BNSF) and the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) both report progress in reopening corridors, but outages remain. BNSF reopened its Sioux City subdivision and track between O’Neil, NE and Bayard, IA.

However, the routes from Kansas City, MO to Columbus and Omaha, NE remain closed. UP reopened its Omaha, Blair, and Columbus subdivisions, with trains moving under reduced speeds through the Columbus subdivision (between Fremont and Grand Lakes, NE).

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UP’s route between Jefferson City, MO and Omaha, NE remains out of service. Carloading and service data highlight the impact of recent extreme whether on grain shippers. Grain carloads are down considerably from last year and are below the 3-year average.

In addition, March grain train speeds averaged 12 percent below January for BNSF and UP, while their average terminal dwell times and average grain origin dwell times rose 15 percent and 87 percent, respectively.

Grain Inspections Rise; Corn Inspections Rebound

For the week ending March 21, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.24 million metric tons (mmt). This is a 7 percent increase from the previous week, an 8 percent decrease from last year, and is 10 percent below the 3-year average.

Total grain inspections increased as corn inspections jumped 24 percent from the previous week. Shipments of corn rebounded to Latin America and Asia. Soybean inspections increased 1 percent from week-to-week, but inspections of wheat decreased 12 percent, for the same period.

Grain inspections in the Mississippi Gulf increased 16 percent from the past week, while Pacific Northwest (PNW) inspections increased 2 percent.

Snapshots by Sector

Export

Sales For the week ending March 14, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 32.9 mmt. This indicates a 13 percent decrease from the same time last year. Net weekly wheat export sales were .299 mmt, up 14 percent from the previous week. Net corn export sales totaled .856 mmt, up 130 percent from the previous week. However, net soybean export sales were down 78 percent from last week, at a total of .400 mmt.

Rail

U.S. Class I railroads originated 18,619 grain carloads for the week ending March 16. This is a 3 percent decline from the previous week, 22 percent lower than last year, and 18 percent below the 3-year average.

Average April shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $621 above tariff for the week ending March 21. This is down $50 from last week, but up $165 from last year. Average non-shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers were $425 above tariff, up $44 from last week. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week last year.

Barge

For the week ending March 23, barge grain movements totaled 697,390 tons. This is 6 percent higher than the previous week and 29 percent lower than the same period last year.

For the week ending March 23, 428 grain barges moved down river. This is 39 more barges than the previous week. There were 644 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 38 percent higher than the previous week.

Ocean

For the week ending March 21, 34 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf. This is 3 percent less than the same period last year. Fifty-eight vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 9 percent more than the same period last year.

For the week ending March 21, the ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain from the Gulf to Japan was $41.00 per metric ton. This is 3 percent more than the previous week. The cost of shipping from the PNW to Japan was $23.50 per metric ton. This is 2 percent more than the previous week.

Fuel

For the week ending March 25, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased to $3.080 per gallon, 1 cent above the previous week’s average and 7 cents above the same week last year.

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