Moving Grain: Barge Volume Remains High, May Slow Soon

©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

Volume of Grain Moved by Barge Remains High but May Soon Slow

For the week ending November 30, 1.02 million tons of grain passed through the locks of the Mississippi River and major tributaries. This quantity surpassed last week’s total as the highest for weekly volume in 2019 and was 52 percent higher than the same week last year. Shipments originating from the upper Mississippi River sent before the river closed may still be in transit, but the upper Mississippi is now closed to new shipments for the winter.

This week (beginning December 1) is likely to be the last week that shipping will be available in the mid-Mississippi, a stretch of the river passing through Davenport, IA, before that section of the river is also closed for the winter. Locks 24 and 25, on the Mississippi just north of St. Louis, will close from December 15 through March 31, 2020.

As usual, the Illinois, Ohio, and Arkansas (MKARNS) Rivers will remain open throughout the winter, as will portions of the Mississippi in St. Louis and further south.

SM Line Brings Weekly Container Service to the Port of Portland

On November 19, the Port of Portland, OR, announced that the South Korea-based container carrier SM Line will bring weekly container shipping service to Portland. SM Line launched in 2017 and continues to expand its presence on the Asia-North America trade route to meet growing demand.

The Port of Portland’s Terminal 6 will be added to SM Line’s existing rotation to the Pacific Northwest, which includes stops in Vancouver, BC, and Seattle, WA. This additional shipping opportunity will serve various containerized agricultural exports in the region, including grains, potatoes, peas, lentils, and hay.

Total Grain Inspections Recede

For the week ending November 28, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.31 million metric tons (mmt). Total grain inspections were down 26 percent from the previous week, down 14 percent from last year and down 27 percent from the 3-year average.

Inspections of each of the three major grains decreased notably from the previous week. Wheat inspections dropped 43 percent from week to week, while corn and soybeans dropped 30 and 21 percent, respectively, from the past week.

Inspections of grain were down 11 percent from the previous week in the Mississippi Gulf, and were down 48 percent in the Pacific Northwest (PNW).

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending November 21, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 23.1 mmt. This represents a 19-percent decrease in outstanding sales, compared to the same time last year. Net corn export sales reached .807 mmt, up 2 percent from the past week. Net soybean export sales were 1.66 mmt, up 26 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales reached .613 mmt, up 40 percent from the previous week.

Grain News on AgFax


U.S. Class I railroads originated 22,210 grain carloads during the week ending November 23. This was a 1-percent decrease from the previous week, 11 percent more than last year, and 9 percent more than the 3-year average.

Average December shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $379 below tariff for the week ending November 28. This was $279 less than last week and $234 lower than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


For the week ending November 30, barge grain movements totaled 1,020,740 tons. This was a 7-percent increase from the previous week and 52 percent more than the same period last year.

For the week ending November 30, 694 grain barges moved down river—72 more barges than the previous week. There were 672 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 21 percent less than the previous week.


For the week ending November 28, 36 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—10 percent less than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting November 29), 45 vessels were expected to be loaded—21 percent fewer than the same period last year.


For the week ending December 2, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 0.4 cents from the previous week to $3.07 per gallon, 13.7 cents below the same week last year.

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