Moving Grain: Highwater Still Disrupting Barge Traffic

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

Ongoing Highwater Still Disrupting Barge Traffic

Ongoing highwater conditions continue to disrupt barge movements throughout the inland waterways. Conditions on the Upper Mississippi River from Burlington, IA, to St. Louis, MO, have improved to allow southbound traffic of 15-barge tows. However, due to poorer navigation conditions above Burlington, southbound traffic is limited to 9 to 12 barges per tow.

There are tow size restrictions on the lower Mississippi River, along with daylight only passage under bridges at Vicksburg, MS, and Baton Rouge, LA. Lock repairs and highwater have slowed traffic on the Upper Illinois River.

The Ohio River is experiencing highwater, while the Arkansas River is still impacted by historic flooding. Overall conditions are improving as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports that regional forecasts show that on or about August 1, most Mississippi River gauges will be out of flood stage.

Grain Inspections Lowest Since Early January

For the week ending July 18, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 1.48 million metric tons (mmt). This amount is down 24 percent from the previous week, down 42 percent from last year, and 36 percent below the 3-year average. Weekly inspections are also the lowest since the first week of January.

Although wheat inspections increased 24 percent from the previous week, the increase could not offset the large drop in corn and soybean inspections. Grain inspections decreased 52 percent from the previous week in the Mississippi Gulf and 24 percent in the Pacific Northwest (PNW).

Despite the overall drop in inspections of grain, Texas Gulf grain inspections jumped 75 percent from the past week and are up 85 percent from year-to-date.

Diesel Fuel Prices Lower as Crude Oil Prices Soften

During the week ending July 22, the average U.S. on-highway diesel fuel price was $3.044 per gallon, 0.7 cents lower than the previous week and 17.6 cents lower than the same week in 2018.

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Prices have fallen nearly 13 cents per gallon since mid-May. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports crude oil prices were down approximately 10 percent in June, compared with April and May.

EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook further explains, “The recent price declines largely reflect increasing uncertainty about global oil demand growth as a result of increasingly weak global economic signals. Weakening oil demand, combined with strong supply growth in the United States, has helped build global oil inventories so far in 2019 and has limited any sustained upward pressure on oil prices.”

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending July 11, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 19.1 mmt. This indicates a 13 percent decrease in outstanding sales, compared to the same time last year.

Net corn export sales reached .200 mmt, down 60 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales totaled .128 mmt, down 17 percent from the past week. Net weekly wheat export sales reached .347 mmt, up 22 percent from the previous week.

Rail

U.S. Class I railroads originated 24,219 grain carloads for the week ending July 13. This is a 2 percent increase from the previous week, 2 percent lower than last year, and 1 percent below the 3-year average.

Average August shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $56 below tariff for the week ending July 18. This is $33 less than last year. There were no shuttle bids/offers last week. Average non-shuttle bids/offers were $100 above tariff, up $25 from last week. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week last year.

Barge

For the week ending July 20, barge grain movements totaled 773,168 tons. This is a 14 percent increase from the previous week and 19 percent higher than the same period last year.

For the week ending July 20, 490 grain barges moved down river. This is 62 more barges than the previous week. There were 415 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 39 percent more than the previous week.

Ocean

For the week ending July 18, 18 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf. This is 47 percent fewer than the same period last year. Fifty-nine vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days. This is 5 percent more than the same period last year.

As of July 18, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $49.50. This is 6 percent more than the previous week. The rate from the PNW to Japan was $27.00 per mt, 6 percent more than the previous week.

Full report.




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