Weekly Grain Barge Movements Drop as High Water Conditions Continue
For the week ending April 27, barge grain movements dropped 10 percent, compared to the previous week, as the Upper Mississippi River continued to experience the effects of above-average rain and melt-off of historic snow falls. Year-to-date (YTD) grain shipments by barge are 8 million tons, 19 percent less than last year.
YTD corn shipments by barge are 4 million tons, a notable change (31 percent less) than last year. Typically, as of May 1, there is continuous barge traffic on the Mississippi River between Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, and the Gulf of Mexico. This year, navigation is blocked by the closure of several locks above St. Louis and by low bridge clearances in certain areas due to high water.
STB Report Details Recommendations on Rate Review Processes
On April 29, the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) Rate Reform Task Force (Task Force) released a staff report, containing recommendations for possible changes to the current railroad rate review processes and methodologies. According to the press release, STB established the Task Force “in January 2018 to recommend improvements to the Board’s existing rate review processes and to propose new rate review methodologies that are more attuned to the realities of the current transportation world.”
Among their main recommendations, the Task Force provides proposals to reduce the cost and complexity in small rate disputes (e.g., requiring arbitration, procedural limitations, etc.) and the Stand-Alone Cost method; offers a new rate methodology (the “Incumbent Network Cost Analysis”) for use in large disputes; puts forward a new concept of “long-term” revenue adequacy (and associated remedies for shippers within such an environment); suggests improvements to the Three-Benchmark method; and seeks to simplify determinations of “market dominance.”
Total Grain Inspections Recede but Soybeans Rebound
For the week ending April 25, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.52 million metric tons (mmt). This indicates a 3 percent decrease from the previous week, no change from last year, and a 6 percent increase from the 3-year average.
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Overall grain inspections declined despite a 27 percent jump in soybean inspections, which were shipped primarily from the Mississippi Gulf to Asia. Corn inspections increased 1 percent from the previous week, but wheat inspections dropped 23 percent. Pacific Northwest grain inspections decreased 5 percent from the previous week, but Mississippi Gulf grain inspections increased 26 percent.
Snapshots by Sector
For the week ending April 18, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 30.3 mmt. This indicates a 13 percent drop in outstanding sales, compared to the same time last year. Net weekly wheat export sales were .425 mmt, up 34 percent from the previous week. Net corn export sales totaled .780 mmt, down 18 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales totaled .595 mmt, up 56 percent from the past week.
U.S. Class I railroads originated 24,770 grain carloads for the week ending April 20. This is up 14 percent from the previous week, 4 percent lower than last year, and 10 percent above the 3-year average.
Average May shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $92 above tariff for the week ending April 25. This is up $217 from last week and $508 below last year. Average non-shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers were $350 above tariff, down $300 from last week. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week last year.
For the week ending April 27, barge grain movements totaled 423,900 tons. This is 10 percent lower than the previous week and 43 percent lower than the same period last year.
For the week ending April 27, 268 grain barges moved down river. This is 19 fewer barges than the previous week. There were 595 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 3 percent lower than the previous week.
For the week ending April 25, 34 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf. This is unchanged from the same period last year. Forty-nine vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days. This is 14 percent more than the same period last year.
As of April 25, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $42.25, This is 1 percent more than the previous week. The rate for the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $23.00 per mt. This is unchanged from the previous week.
For the week ending April 29, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 2.2 cents, from the previous week, to $3.169 per gallon. This is 1.2 cents above the same week last year.