Moving Grain: Waterways Symposium Highlights Importance of Infrastructure

Photo: Iowa Farm Bureau

Waterways Symposium Highlights the Importance of Reliable Infrastructure

From November 6 to 8, Waterways Conference, Inc. (WCI) held its annual symposium in Pittsburgh, PA, on the theme of “Structuring a Plan for Waterways’ Infrastructure Investment.” A key takeaway from the program was the importance of reliable waterway infrastructure to keeping waterborne transportation economically viable for shippers. WCI is a professional association representing the interests of users of inland waterways, including representatives from grain boards in States using the waterways.

An AMS Transportation Services Division staff member presented the current statistics on grain traffic on inland waterways and highlights from the AMS-sponsored report, “The Importance of Inland Waterways to Agriculture.” The report was officially released in August during a joint appearance by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and Assistant Secretary for the Army for Civil Works R.D. James. Other panelists represented the chemical and construction industries.

The presentation slides can be found here.

Total Inspections Up for the Week but Still Below Recent Years

For the week ending November 7, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.51 million metric tons (mmt). Total inspections were up 17 percent from the previous week but down 15 percent from last year and down 26 percent from the 3-year average.

Over the past 4 weeks, total grain inspections were 90 percent of last year and 73 percent of the prior 3-year average. Specifically, over the past 4 weeks, wheat inspections were strong, 33 percent above last year and 49 percent above the 3-year average, but corn and soybean inspections were low, down 41 percent and 33 percent, respectively, from the 3-year average.

From the previous week, Pacific Northwest inspections were up 10 percent and Mississippi Gulf inspections were up 27 percent.

Short Supply of Propane in the Midwest

This year’s wet grain harvest conditions in the Midwest have put pressure on propane supplies in the region. Propane remains the first choice of fuel in the Midwest for drying grain. According to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, propane stocks in the Midwest typically peak between late September and mid-October, then start slowly falling through November and December. As of November 1, stocks had fallen 6 percent since the end of September and were approximately 2 million barrels lower than the same week last year.

Reuters recently reported, “The supply crunch prompted the governors of Iowa, [Indiana], Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin in recent days to sign executive orders temporarily lifting regulations restricting what hours commercial drivers can transport propane, gasoline and diesel fuel to retail suppliers, to try to get the fuel to farmers and farm cooperatives as fast as possible.”

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending October 31, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 23.7 mmt. This represented a 22-percent decrease in outstanding sales, compared to the same time last year. Net corn export sales reached .488 mmt, down 11 percent from the past week. Net soybean export sales were 1.81 mmt, up 91 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales reached .361 mmt, down 27 percent from the from the previous week.


U.S. Class I railroads originated 21,798 grain carloads during the week ending November 2. This was a 3-percent increase from the previous week, 7 percent more than last year, and 10 percent less than the 3-year average.

Average November shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $69 above tariff for the week ending November 7. This was $144 less than last week and $319 more than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


For the week ending November 9, barge grain movements totaled 745,366 tons. This was a 13-percent increase from the previous week and 23 percent less than the same period last year.

For the week ending November 9, 468 grain barges moved down river—52 more barges than the previous week. There were 780 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 26 percent more than the previous week.


For the week ending November 7, 39 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—11 percent more than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting November 1), 38 vessels were expected to be loaded—28 percent fewer than the same period last year.

As of November 7, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $48.50. This was 2 percent less than the previous week. The rate from PNW to Japan was $26.25 per mt, 3 percent less than the previous week.


For the week ending November 11, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 1.1 cents from the previous week to $3.073 per gallon, 24.4 cents below the same week last year.

Full report.

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