Moving Grain: Heightened River-Water Levels, Flooding Recovery

Mississippi River barges lines up at Port of Rosedale, Mississippi ©Debra L Ferguson

Heading into Winter, Heightened River-Water Levels and Flooding Recovery

For the week ending December 21, southbound tows on the Lower Mississippi River continued to be reduced by five loads in response to high water levels according to the American Commercial Barge Line (ACBL).

The Plaquemine area of the Lower Mississippi River is operating under daily one-way traffic restrictions through December 27 because of seasonal mat-sinking activities, conducted by the Vicksburg District of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to shield the riverbank from erosion and sloughing caused by channel currents and turbulent water associated with river flood stages.

On the Arkansas River, tow sizes remained limited to six loads because of Arkansas River flooding and recovery efforts. According to ACBL, 12-barge tows will return some time in 2020.

Congress Passes FY 2020 Energy and Water Spending Bill

The Energy and Water Development Spending Bill funds the civil works program of the Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) at $7.65 billion, $652 million above the FY 2019 level and $2.69 billion above the budget request. Notably, the construction-cost share for Chickamauga Lock is 65 percent for general revenue funding and 35 percent for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) (compared to the traditional 50/50 split), with the aim of reducing final project costs and speeding completion on current construction.

In addition, the bill will fully use the estimated receipts and previous year’s revenues of IWTF, resulting in a $317 million investment level for FY 2020. Investigations are funded at $151 million—a $26 million increase above the FY 2019 level and $74 million above the request—and enable funding for studies in the 2020 USACE work plan.

Construction will be funded at $2.68 billion—a $498 million increase above the FY 2019 level and $1.37 billion above the request. Operation and Maintenance are funded at $3.79 billion—an increase of $1.86 billion above the request. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund projects will receive $1.63 billion—an increase of $665 million above the request. Mississippi Rivers and Tributaries (MR&T) will receive $375 million.

Grain Inspections Down From Past Week

For the week ending December 19, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.1 million metric tons (mmt). Total grain inspections were down 19 percent from the previous week, down 9 percent from last year, and down 26 percent from the 3-year average.

Total inspections for corn and soybeans were down 45 and 19 percent, respectively, from the previous week. However, wheat inspections increased 13 percent from week to week. Grain inspections in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) decreased 24 percent from the past week, and Mississippi Gulf inspections decreased 19 percent.

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending December 12, 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 1.71 mmt, up 96 percent from the past week. Net soybean export sales were 1.43 mmt, up 36 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales reached .869 mmt, up 73 percent from the previous week.

Grain News on AgFax


U.S. Class I railroads originated 20,709 grain carloads during the week ending December 14. This was a 11-percent decrease from the previous week, 8 percent fewer than last year, and 12 percent fewer than the 3-year average. There were no shuttle or non-shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers this week.


For the week ending December 21, barge grain movements totaled 478,028 tons. This was a 33-percent decrease from the previous week and 35 percent less than the same period last year.

For the week ending December 21, 388 grain barges moved down river—135 fewer barges than the previous week. There were 706 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 3 percent more than the previous week.


For the week ending December 19, 26 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—16.1 percent fewer than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting December 29), 40 vessels were expected to be loaded—29.8 percent fewer than the same period last year. As of December 19, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $46.50.

This was 1.6 percent less than the previous week. The rate from PNW to Japan was $25.50 per mt, 1 percent less than the previous week.


For the week ending December 23, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 0.5 cents from the previous week to $3.041 per gallon, 3.6 cents below the same week last year.

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