Moving Grain: Bonneville Lock and Dam Facility Reopens

Grain barges on the Columbia River. ©Creative Commons - Linda

Bonneville Lock and Dam Facility Reopens

On September 30, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reopened the Bonneville Lock and Dam, located on the Columbia River in Oregon. USACE had closed the facility on September 5 because of a crack in a lock wall. Since 2001, food and farm products represent over 65 percent of barged goods reaching PNW ports via the Columbia River system.

Of these food and farm products, wheat and vegetables are the largest shares. Although the total September 2019 volume was far lower than September 2018, the amount passing through after the September 30 reopening more than tripled the total from the rest of September 2019.

Recent Regulatory Announcements from the STB

Over the past few weeks, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) has opened four dockets of importance to agricultural and other shippers. Two of the dockets are proposals to improve rate review procedures and make them more accessible.

First is Ex Parte (EP) 755, in which STB proposes a new procedure called “final offer rate review” for challenging the reasonableness of railroad rates in smaller cases. Second is EP 756, where STB proposes a streamlined market dominance approach for use in all rate reasonableness proceedings. Comments in both proceedings are due by November 12. Third, STB also announced a hearing on revenue adequacy, set for December 12, 2019 (see EP 761).

Notices of intention to speak at the hearing are due by October 31. Written submission are due by November 26. Last, STB proposed revisions to its methodology for determining the rail industry’s cost of capital (see EP 664 Sub-No. 4). Comments are due by November 5.

Corn Drives Increase in Total Grain Inspections

For the week ending September 26, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 1.9 million metric tons (mmt). Inspections are up 11 percent from the previous week, down 22 percent from last year, and 26 percent below the 3-year average.

Corn inspections, which jumped 70 percent from the previous week, drove the increase in total inspections of grain. U.S. exports of corn to Asia and Latin America rebounded 378 percent and 55 percent, respectively, from the previous week. Soybean inspections increased 6 percent from week to week, but inspections of wheat decreased 5 percent.

Grain inspections in the Mississippi Gulf increased 21 percent from the past week, but Pacific Northwest (PNW) inspections decreased 15 percent.

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending September 19, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 22.9 mmt. This indicates a 37-percent decrease in outstanding sales from the same time last year. Net corn export sales reached .494 mmt, down 64 percent from the past week. Net soybean export sales were 1.04 mmt, down 40 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales reached .283 mmt, down 1 percent from the from the previous week.

Grain News on AgFax


U.S. Class I railroads originated 19,018 grain carloads during the week ending September 21. This is a 4-percent increase from the previous week, 18 percent less than last year, and 16 percent lower than the 3-year average.

Average October shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $269 below tariff for the week ending September 26. This is $100 less than last week and $569 lower than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


For the week ending September 28, barge grain movements totaled 564,835 tons. This is a 13-percent increase from the previous week and 36 percent more than the same period last year.

For the week ending September 28, 355 grain barges moved down river. This is 28 more barges than the previous week. There were 681 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 8 percent more than the previous week.


For the week ending September 26, 29 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf. This is 9 percent fewer than the same period last year. Thirty-nine vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days (starting September 27). This is 38 percent fewer than the same period last year.

As of September 26, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $51.50. This is 1 percent less than the previous week. The rate from PNW to Japan was $28.75 per mt, 3 percent less than the previous week.


For the week ending September 30, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 1.5 cents from the previous week to $3.066 per gallon. This price is 24.7 cents less than the same week last year.

Full report.

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