Moving Grain: River Flood Levels Slowly Receding; Rail Service Recoveries

Barge and ship traffic transport export cargo on the Mississippi River in the Port of New Orleans. Photo: Bob Nichols, USDA

Mississippi River Levels at St. Louis Still Too High for Navigation

On June 8, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported the Mississippi River at St. Louis had crested at 46 feet. Barge traffic through St. Louis is still prohibited until the river level falls below 38 feet. As of June 13, the St. Louis level is 44 feet and the NWS forecasts the river will drop below the 38 foot level, by June 19.

Many locks on the Mississippi River are closed, stopping down-bound grain barges originating on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers from reaching the Lower Mississippi River. Flood waters have also stopped navigation on the Arkansas River. Barge traffic on the Lower Mississippi River has been disrupted by reduced tow sizes and transit being restricted to daylight hours under certain bridges.

Update on Rail Service Impacted by Flooding

Though some outages remain, the railroads continue to make progress restoring service in flood-impacted areas in the Midwest. In its latest Network Update, dated June 7, BNSF Railway (BNSF) reported service was fully restored in its Council Bluffs Subdivision, between Council Bluffs, IA, and Pacific Junction, IA. Portions of BNSF track along the Mississippi River remain out of service, with washouts and water over the rail.

Grain News on AgFax

Over the past week, Union Pacific Railroad (UP) has restored service in several subdivisions, including Van Buren (Fort Smith to North Little Rock, AR), Cherokee (Parsons, KS, to McAlester, OK), Falls City (Kansas City, MO, to Council Bluffs, IA), Jonesboro (Pine Bluff, AR, to Dexter, MO), and Tulsa (Tulsa to Muskogee, OK). UP’s route between Jefferson City and Kansas City, MO, remains out of service. Kansas City Southern Railway’s Roadhouse Subdivision (near Louisiana, MO) remains closed.

Due to flooded track, Norfolk Southern Railway continues to embargo traffic to and from Kansas City. Over the past 4 weeks (week ending June 1), rail carloadings of grain were 4 percent lower than in 2018 and 2017.

USDA Announces Ag Transportation Open Data Platform

On June 11, USDA announced a new and interactive data platform to make it easier for stakeholders to access, use, and download data on the transportation of agricultural products by rail, truck, barge, and ocean. The open data platform enables customers to use and view up-to-date data, interactive dashboards on major transportation modes and markets, and access data in many different, open file formats.

USDA stakeholders will have the ability to access data through automatically generated and maintained Application Programming Interfaces (API), which open the door to the development of cell phone and web apps built using the data. Users can also select and download data using easy filtering and aggregating, while creating a variety of visualizations from datasets (including maps) and save personalized dataset views and visualizations.

These dataset views and visualizations are then automatically updated to show the latest insights. For more information on this new platform, visit here.

Grain Inspections Rise; Soybeans Highest Since March

For the week ending June 6, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.08 million metric tons (mmt). This amount indicates a 10 percent increase from the previous week, an 18 percent drop from last year, and a 6 percent decrease from the 3-year average.

Soybean inspections jumped 40 percent from the previous week, and were the highest since late March of this year. Shipments of soybeans to China increased 20 percent from week to week. Corn inspections increased 14 percent for the same period, but wheat inspections decreased 22 percent from the past week.

Pacific Northwest (PNW) inspections increased 20 percent from the previous week, while inspections in the Mississippi Gulf increased 8 percent.

Snapshots by Sector


U.S. Class I railroads originated 20,824 grain carloads for the week ending June 1. This is 7 percent lower than the previous week, up 7 percent from last year, and 2 percent below the 3-year average.

Average June shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $339 above tariff for the week ending June 6. This is $184 above last week and $176 higher than last year. Average non-shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers were $125 above tariff, down $44 from last week. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


For the week ending June 8, data for barge grain movements is not available. For the week ending June 8, data for grain barges moved down river is not available. There were 383 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 14 percent lower than the previous week.


For the week ending June 6, 30 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf. This is 3 percent less than the same period last year. Forty-five vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days. This is 7 percent more than the same period last year.

As of June 6, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $43.75. This is 1 percent less than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $24.00 per mt, a 1 percent decrease from the previous week.


For the week ending June 10, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 3.1 cents, from the previous week, to $3.105 per gallon. This price is 16.1 cents below the same week last year.

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