Moving Grain: Flood Waters Halt Barge Traffic

©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

Flood Waters Stop Mississippi River Traffic

Rising flood waters have stopped Mississippi River traffic at St. Louis, MO. On May 3, river levels at St. Louis exceeded 38 feet, which is the threshold at which the U.S. Coast Guard closes the river to all vessel traffic in the St. Louis area. Forecasts indicate river levels will not recede below the 38-foot stage until mid-May. Further upstream, river conditions have been very disruptive.

For example, year-to-date (YTD) there has been no grain traffic at Mississippi River Locks and Dam (L&D)15, (near Davenport, IA). On average, by the first week of May, L&D 15 has a YTD total of 1.3 million tons of down-bound grain.

For the week ending on May 4, YTD down-bound barge tonnages at Mississippi River Locks 27 (upstream from the St. Louis closure) were 3.6 million tons, down 43 percent from the 5-year average. Down-bound grain on the Ohio River has also been impacted. Year-to-date grain tonnages at Ohio River Olmsted L&D were 4.0 million tons, 11 percent lower than the 5-year average.

However, YTD rail deliveries of grain to the Mississippi Gulf were 14,639 cars, 102 percent higher than last year at this time.

UP Announces Plans to Simplify Chicago Intermodal Complex

Union Pacific Railroad (UP) announced it will be idling its Global 3 Intermodal Ramp in Rochelle, IL, in early July. UP seeks to simplify operations through the congested Chicago region by allowing its Global 2 and Global 4 facilities to focus on a specific business segment. The Global 2 facility will distribute domestic intermodal volume while the Global 4 facility will handle predominantly international intermodal shipments.

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UP hopes the new configurations will make operations faster and more efficient, while offering benefits for its customers as well. UP reports, “By condensing specific shipment types to a single facility, customers will likely benefit from fewer vendors to manage, simplified billing and, in some cases, reduced chassis repositioning costs.”

The Chicago region originates the majority of containerized grain exports in the country. See the UP website for more information.

Wheat and Corn Drives Grain Inspections Down

For the week ending May 2, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.10 million metric tons (mmt). The amount indicates an 18 percent decrease from the previous week, an 18 percent decrease from last year, and a 10 percent decrease from the 3-year average. The decrease in inspections was driven by a 26 percent drop in wheat inspections and a 29 percent drop in corn inspections.

Soybean inspections, however, continued to increase; rising 18 percent from week to week. Pacific Northwest (PNW) grain inspections decreased 22 percent from the previous week, and Mississippi Gulf grain inspections decreased 21 percent.

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending April 25, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 28.9 mmt. This indicates a 16 percent decrease in outstanding sales, compared to the same time last year.

Net weekly wheat export sales were .122 mmt, down 71 percent from the previous week. Net corn export sales totaled .587 mmt, down 25 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales totaled .250 mmt, down 58 percent from the past week.


U.S. Class I railroads originated 25,048 grain carloads for the week ending April 27. This is up 1 percent from the previous week, 5 percent from last year, and 11 percent from the 3-year average.

Average May shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $90 below tariff for the week ending May 2, down $181 from last week, and $281 below last year. Average non-shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers were $263 above tariff, down $88 from last week, and $805 below last year.


For the week ending May 4, barge grain movements totaled 498,644 tons. This is 18 percent higher than the previous week and 44 percent lower than the same period last year.

For the week ending May 4, 307 grain barges moved down river. This is 39 more barges than the previous week. There were 559 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 6 percent less than the previous week.


For the week ending May 2, 27 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf. This is 18 percent less than the same period last year. Sixty-seven vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days. This is 68 percent more than the same period last year.

As of May 2, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $42.50. 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 May 6, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 0.2 cents, from the previous week, to $3.171 per gallon. This price is unchanged from the same week last year.

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