Moving Grain: USDA Research Examines Port Choice for Exports

Barge traffic on the Mississippi River - Port of New Orleans. Photo: USDA

USDA Research Examines Port Choice for Grain Exports

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service recently published a synopsis of research conducted in cooperation with the University of Oregon. The research report is titled “A Study of Grain and Soybean Export Flows: Uncovering Their Determinants and the Implications for Infrastructure Investment.”

The researchers studied how transportation costs and port attributes (e.g., channel depth) affected port choice from two perspectives—an importing country and an inland U.S. shipper. They found a 1-percent increase in a port’s shipping costs corresponded to a 6- to 8-percent reduction in the port’s traffic.

In addition, they found a 1-percent increase in channel depth resulted in a port gaining 1- to 3-percent more business, and a 1-percent increase in berthing length resulted in about 1 percent more traffic.

FMCSA Extends Emergency Waiver on CDL Requirements

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently extended, through November 30, 2021, its waiver on commercial driver’s license (CDL) requirements for truck drivers. The original waiver was placed in effect to help meet the challenges of the national emergency declared for COVID-19.

The waiver for CDLs permits, but does not require, States to extend the validity of CDLs due for renewal on or after March 1, 2020. The waiver also extends an exemption from CDL-required medical certification—provided the certification expired on or after June 1, 2021. FMCSA intends to review the status of the waiver on October 1, 2021, and may act to end it sooner, if conditions warrant.

Grain Inspections Lowest Since Early January 2019

For the week ending September 9, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions totaled .824 million metric tons (mmt). Total grain inspections were up 2 percent from the previous week, down 75 percent from the same time last year, and down 66 percent from the 3-year average.

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Total inspections were the lowest since early January 2019. Increased inspections of wheat (33 percent) and soybeans (16 percent) from the previous week could not offset the 50 percent drop in corn inspections. Corn shipments were down, primarily to Asia.

As the U.S. Gulf continued to recover from Hurricane Ida, there were no inspections of grain in the Mississippi Gulf. Pacific Northwest (PNW) inspections increased 30 percent from the previous week. During the last 4 weeks, total inspections were 57 percent below the same time last year and 51 percent below the 3-year average.

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending September 2, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans for marketing year 2021/22 totaled 49.2 million metric tons (mmt).

Net corn export sales for the new marketing year, which began September 1, were 0.906. Net soybean export sales for the new marketing year, which began September 1, were 1.472 mmt, Net weekly wheat export sales were 0.388 mmt, up 31 percent from last week.

Rail

U.S. Class I railroads originated 16,711 grain carloads during the week ending September 4. This was a 3-percent decrease from the previous week, 27 percent less than last year, and 20 percent lower than the 3-year average.

Average September shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $351 above tariff for the week ending September 9. This was $287 more than last week and $449 lower than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.

Barge

For the week ending September 11, barge grain movements totaled 176,618 tons. This was 43 percent lower than the previous week and 78 percent lower than the same period last year. For the week ending September 11, 114 grain barges moved down river—83 fewer barges than the previous week.

Ocean

For the week ending September 9, 6 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—86 percent fewer than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting September 10), 30 vessels were expected to be loaded—54 percent fewer than the same period last year. Lower vessel counts are partly due to incomplete data because of Hurricane Ida.

As of September 9, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $80.25. This was 2 percent less than the previous week. The rate from PNW to Japan was $44.25 per mt, 1 percent less than the previous week.

Fuel

For the week ending September 13, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased by 0.1 cent from the previous week to $3.372 per gallon, 95.0 cents above the same week last year.

Full report.




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