Moving Grain: Barges Resume Operations After Winter Storms

©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

Grain Barges Resume Operations After Severe Winter Weather

Last week, ice storms and other severe weather temporarily halted barge operations on the Mississippi River around St. Louis, as well as on the Ohio River, Illinois River, and Lower Mississippi River areas. As of February 25, most grain barges have resumed operations, except for those on the Illinois River.

Minor delays persist, but no major disruptions are expected. The barge industry expects navigating conditions on the Illinois River to continue to improve for the rest of the week. However, next week, melting ice may cause high water conditions that could potentially challenge operations.

Reflecting last week’s severe weather impacts, total barge grain movements for the week ending February 20 were 488,462 tons, 46 percent lower than the previous 4-week average and the lowest since April 2020. For the same week, 674 grain barges were unloaded in New Orleans, the fewest since the August 2020 hurricane season

Shippers Should Expect Delays as Railroads Restore Operations

Although multiple railroads warn customers should expect delays as backlogs are cleared, they also say conditions are improving since last week’s severe winter weather. U.S. Class I railroads are making progress restoring service. With improved weather conditions and warmer temperatures, BNSF Railway (BNSF) does not anticipate needing to reduce train lengths.

The railroad also expects train speeds and network fluidity to improve. Kansas City Southern reports it did not have any weather-related infrastructure issues. Most of the remaining affected areas are in the South (Texas for BNSF and Arkansas, Missouri, and South Texas for Union Pacific Railroad).

Grain Inspections Continue To Recede—PNW at Lowest Level Since July

For the week ending February 18, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions were 2.3 million metric tons (mmt). Total grain inspections were down 15 percent from the previous week, up 18 percent from last year, and down 6 percent from the 3-year average.

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From the previous week, inspections of each of the three major grains continued to fall: wheat inspections decreased 22 percent; corn decreased 7 percent, and soybeans fell 22 percent.

Pacific Northwest (PNW) inspections, at .558 mmt, were the lowest since late July 2020. Mississippi Gulf grain inspections were down 5 percent from the previous week. Despite the declines in recent weeks, year-to-date grain inspections are up 39 percent from last year.

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending February 11, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 51.3 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 0.999 mmt, down 31 percent from the past week. Net soybean export sales were 0.456 mmt, down 43 percent from the previous week. Net wheat export sales were 0.399 mmt, down 33 percent from the previous week.

Rail

U.S. Class I railroads originated 22,823 grain carloads during the week ending February 13. This was a 12-percent decrease from the previous week, 25 percent more than last year, and 17 percent more than the 3-year average.

Average March shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $223 above tariff for the week ending February 18. This was $111 more than last week and $365 more than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.

Barge

For the week ending February 20, barge grain movements totaled 488,462 tons. This was 28 percent lower than the previous week and 12 percent less than the same period last year.

For the week ending February 20, 283 grain barges moved down river—120 barges fewer than the previous week. There were 674 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 13 percent less than the previous week.

Ocean

For the week ending February 18, 34 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—26 percent more than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting February 19, 2021), 57 vessels were expected to be loaded—46 percent more than the same period last year.

As of February 18, the rate for shipping a metric ton of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $54.00. This was 10 percent more than the previous week. The rate from PNW to Japan was $32.25 per metric ton, 19 percent more than the previous week.

Fuel

For the week ending February 22, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 9.7 cents from the previous week to $2.973 per gallon, 9.1 cents above the same week last year.

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