Moving Grain: Upper MS River Improves, Lower River Water Levels Rise

    ©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

    Upper Mississippi River Improves, while Water Levels Rise in the Lower River to New Orleans

    For the week ending May 11, high water conditions continued to disrupt grain barge movements. There were no grain barge shipments transiting Mississippi River Locks 27 (above St. Louis, MO) and LaGrange Lock and Dam (L&D), near Versailles, IL, on the Illinois River. Almost all down-bound grain barge movements were reported on the Ohio River, which doubled the total tonnage of grain barge movements (370 million tons) from the previous week for the Olmsted L&D.

    As of May 15, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) reports Mississippi River levels in the Rock Island, IL, area and St. Louis, MO, area continue to recede from their crests and are forecast to fall from major flood stage to moderate flood stage. Portions of the Illinois River are beginning to slowly recede, but will remain at major flood stage through the week of May 19.

    Mississippi River levels in the Vicksburg, MS and New Orleans areas are increasing. On May 10, the Corps re-opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway to reduce flood risk to the city of New Orleans.

    STB Hearing on Demurrage and Accessorial Charges: May 22-23

    Next week, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) will hold a public hearing on demurrage and accessorial charges (Docket No. EP 754). Due to the number of parties interested in speaking, the STB has extended the hearing to two days, May 22-23. For a schedule of speakers and their allotted time, see STB’s May 9 decision. Comments and filings from interested stakeholders, including USDA, can be viewed online using STB’s search engine (filter Docket to “EP” and type “754” to the right of the dash).

    While the hearing will not be livestreamed, it will be recorded, and the video will be made available afterward.

    Wheat Inspections Reach a High for the Year

    For the week ending May 9, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.41 million metric tons (mmt). This amount signifies a 12 percent increase from the previous week, a 13 percent decrease from last year, and a 4 percent increase from the 3-year average.

    Grain News on AgFax

    Increased grain inspections were mainly caused by a 57 percent jump in inspections of wheat. Weekly inspections of wheat reached a high of .887 mmt for the year, with shipments increasing to Africa and Asia. Corn inspections increased 2 percent, while soybean inspections decreased 15 percent, from week to week.

    Total inspections of grain increased 38 percent in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) and 4 percent in the Mississippi Gulf region.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending May 2, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 26.7 mmt. This indicates an 18 percent decrease in outstanding sales, compared to the same time last year. Net weekly wheat export sales were .091 mmt, down 25 percent from the previous week. Net corn export sales totaled .288 mmt, down 51 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were negative .149 mmt, down significantly from the past week.


    U.S. Class I railroads originated 22,287 grain carloads for the week ending May 4. This is down 11 percent from the previous week and 11 percent from last year, but 3 percent higher than the 3-year average.

    Average May shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $58 above tariff for the week ending May 9, $148 above last week but $323 lower than last year. Average non-shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers were $100 above tariff, $163 below last week and $600 lower than last year.


    For the week ending May 11, barge grain movements totaled 369,723 tons. This is 26 percent less than the previous week and 56 percent lower than the same period last year.

    For the week ending May 11, 200 grain barges moved down river. This is 107 fewer barges than the previous week. There were 513 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 8 percent less than the previous week.


    For the week ending May 9, 30 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf. This is 17 percent less than the same period last year. Fifty-four vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days. This is 10 percent more than the same period last year.

    As of May 9, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $42.50. This is unchanged from the previous week. The rate for the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $23.00 per mt. This is also unchanged from the previous week.


    For the week ending May 13, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 1.1 cents, from the previous week, to $3.160 per gallon. This price is 7.9 cents below the same week last year.

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