Moving Grain: High Water, Flooding Beset Lower Mississippi River

    Grain barges on the Columbia River. ©Creative Commons - Linda

    Navigation Season Opens in Upper Mississippi as High Water and Flooding Beset Lower Mississippi

    The 2021 navigation season for the Upper Mississippi River unofficially began on March 19, when a motor vessel pushed 12 barges upbound to St. Paul, MN. However, capacity was limited on the entire Upper Mississippi until March 22, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reopened Lock and Dam 25 (near Winfield, MO) after repair and maintenance.

    While the barge industry busily adjusts upbound logistics for the new navigation season, the Lower Mississippi continues to battle high water, which has delayed grain shipments and raised operation costs since last week.

    For the week ending March 27, total downbound grain movements reached 851,302 tons, the highest level since early February. However, the number of barges unloaded in New Orleans was 627, 19 percent less than the previous week and the lowest weekly number of 2021.

    Currently, highwater and flooding persist in the Lower Mississippi, and the industry expects delays of grain barge movements and loading operations in the Gulf for most of this week.

    Container Vessel Dislodged From Suez Canal, but Traffic Backlog Lingers

    On March 23, a container vessel, “Ever Given,” ran aground, blocking traffic through the Suez Canal for 6 days before it was finally refloated on March 29. The Suez Canal is one of the world’s busiest waterways, especially for connecting Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

    Mainly a route for shipments of oil and containerized cargo, the Canal also serves vessels carrying manufactured goods and some grain from the Black Sea region. According to the Wall Street Journal, hundreds of vessels are lined up to navigate the Canal. The Suez Canal Authority reports the Canal is now operating at full capacity, around the clock, and with navigation in both directions.

    Because most U.S. grain destined to Asia transits the Panama Canal, very little U.S. grain passes through the Suez Canal.

    ASCE Releases 2021 Infrastructure Report Card

    The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently released its quadrennial analysis, its 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Up from a D-plus 4 years ago, the U.S infrastructure system received a general a grade of C-minus this year.

    Grain News on AgFax

    The analysis found 42 percent of 617,000 U.S. bridges were more than 50 years old, and researchers rated more than 46,000 of them as structurally deficient. Likewise, every year, more bridges slip from good to fair condition.

    Despite modest improvements in some infrastructure categories—including railroads, inland waterways, and ports—the Nation’s infrastructure funding gap continues to grow.

    The report projects a shortfall of $2.59 trillion over the next 10 years, at an estimated loss of $10 trillion in economic growth and a loss of over 3 million jobs by 2039. The report asserts major Federal investment is required to prevent the harsh effects of a changing climate and other sources of deterioration.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending March 18, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 44.8 mmt. This was 4 percent higher than last week and also represented a significant increase in outstanding sales from the same time last year.

    Net corn export sales were 4.482 mmt, up significantly from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were 0.102 mmt, down 50 percent from the previous week. Net wheat export sales were 0.344 mmt, down 12 percent from the previous week.


    U.S. Class I railroads originated 27,332 grain carloads during the week ending March 20. This was a 14-percent increase from the previous week, 30 percent more than last year, and 23 percent more than the 3-year average.

    Average April shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $18 above tariff for the week ending March 25. This was $199 less than the previous week and $7 lower than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


    For the week ending March 27, barge grain movements totaled 851,302 tons. This was 18 percent higher than the previous week and 91 percent higher than the same period last year.

    For the week ending March 27, 526 grain barges moved down river—63 barges more than the previous week. There were 624 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 19 percent fewer than the previous week.


    For the week ending March 25, 33 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—3 percent more than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting March 26, 2021), 48 vessels were expected to be loaded—23 percent more than the same period last year.

    As of March 25, the rate for shipping a metric ton of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $61.50. This was 2 percent more than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $36.00 per metric ton, 3 percent more than the previous week.


    For the week ending March 29, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 3.3 cents from the previous week to $3.161 per gallon, 57.5 cents above the same week last year.

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