Moving Grain: 2020 Operational Costs of Trucking

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ATRI Releases 2020 Operational Costs of Trucking

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) recently released a study analyzing detailed trucking costs from 2008 to 2019. According to the study, from 2018 to 2019, the average marginal cost per mile incurred by motor carriers decreased 9.3 percent to $1.65.

Still, that average was 6 cents higher than in 2016, the last time the freight market softened. Costs in most other categories also decreased. From 2018 to 2019, combined driver wage and benefits decreased from 77.6 cents per mile to 69.3 cents per mile. Although total driver compensation declined, bonuses, particularly retention bonuses, increased by over 80 percent because of a driver shortage.

Accurate operational cost data are key to public agencies’ decisions to fund roadway projects, and the efficient movement of freight and commodities, including grain, depend on these projects.

FHWA Proposes To Allow States More Flexibility With Design Standards

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking to give States more flexibility in setting design standards for highway projects. These include resurfacing, restoration, and rehabilitation projects on all National Highway System (NHS) roadways, including interstates.

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The new regulation will let States follow the updated standards of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, among others, without requiring an FHWA exception. The streamlining measure will allow States to quickly repair highways and interstates needing immediate attention.

Roughly 60 percent of U.S. grain is transported by truck (according to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service), and well-functioning roadways are essential to sustaining low transportation costs and the competitiveness of U.S. grain. Comments can be submitted until December 24.

Grain Inspections Continue To Fall, but Rail Deliveries Remain Strong

For the week ending December 10, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions totaled 3.6 million metric tons (mmt). Total grain inspections were down 10 percent from the previous week, up 37 percent from last year, and up 34 percent from the 3-year average.

Inspections of wheat dropped notably from the previous week as shipments to Asia and Latin America decreased. Soybean inspections decreased 8 percent from week to week, but inspections of corn increased 18 percent, as shipments to Asia increased significantly.

Pacific Northwest (PNW) grain inspections decreased 31 percent from the previous week, while Mississippi Gulf inspections increased 15 percent. Despite the drop in grain inspections, total rail deliveries of grain to U.S. ports remained strong; increasing 122 percent from last year and increasing 64 percent from the 3-year average in the last 4 weeks.

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending December 3, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 57.8 million metric tons (mmt). This was 2 percent lower than last week, but still represented a significant increase in outstanding sales from the same time last year.

Net corn export sales were 1.362 mmt, down 1 percent from the past week. Net soybean export sales were 0.569 mmt, up 40 percent from the previous week. Net wheat export sales were 0.617 mmt, up 38 percent from the previous week.


U.S. Class I railroads originated 27,950 grain carloads during the week ending December 5. This was an 11-percent increase from the previous week, 21 percent more than last year, and 16 percent more than the 3-year average.

Average December shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $299 above tariff for the week ending December 10. This was $257 more than last week and $730 more than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


For the week ending December 12, barge grain movements totaled 1,120,459 tons. This was 36 percent more than the previous week and 58 percent more than the same period last year.

For the week ending December 12, 703 grain barges moved down river—181 barges more than the previous week. There were 1,022 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 13 percent higher than the previous week.


For the week ending December 10, 45 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—41 percent more than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting December 11), 66 vessels were expected to be loaded—50 percent more than the same period last year.

As of December 10, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $41.50. This was unchanged from the last available rate on December 3. The rate from PNW to Japan was $23.25 per mt, unchanged from the last available rate on December 3.


For the week ending December 14, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 3.3 cents from the previous week to $2.559 per gallon, 48.7 cents below the same week last year.

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