Moving Grains: Downbound Barge Movements Increase With Harvest

    Barge and ship traffic transport export cargo on the Mississippi River in the Port of New Orleans. Photo: Bob Nichols, USDA

    Downbound Barged Grain Movements Increase With the Harvest and Recovery From Ida

    Downbound barged grain movements and barge-unload operations in the New Orleans region appear to have gradually recovered from Hurricane Ida’s impacts, including damaged hopper barges (among other logistical challenges), as the grain harvest has progressed. Right after the hurricane, in early September, weekly downbound barged grain movements dropped to their lowest level since May 2013.

    For a few weeks after the hurricane, barge-unload operations in the New Orleans region were mostly halted, but they have slowly recovered since late September. Barge movements and unloads typically increase around this time of the year, as river States progress with their harvests.

    For the week ending October 16, downbound barged grain movements through the Mississippi River locking system reached 813,670 tons, 38 percent higher than last week and more than 2.8 times higher than the average weekly tonnage in September.

    For the week ending October 16, 772 barges were unloaded, 1.38 times more than the weekly average in September after operations resumed.

    FMC Urges Ocean Carriers To Adopt Detention and Demurrage Best Practices

    The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) recently sent a letter to all major ocean carriers calling on them to adopt three best practices related to detention and demurrage. The best practices are intended to promote clarity and certainty about how and when fees will be assessed and how charges can be disputed.

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    Based on information collected from the top nine ocean carriers last year, FMC urged carriers to adopt the following industry standards: display charges clearly and prominently on their websites or customer portals; develop and document clear internal processes on all matters regarding detention and demurrage; and clearly define (on websites and invoices) dispute resolution procedures, contacts, and necessary documents.

    If adopted, these new best practices would serve as an initial step toward aligning carrier documents and policies with the goals of the FMC’s Interpretive Rule on Demurrage and Detention Under the Shipping Act, enacted in May 2020.

    Port of Savannah Increases Container Capacity

    The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) recently announced it will add 1.6 million 20-foot-equivalent units (TEU) in container-handling capacity to the Port of Savannah. Including another 230 acres of container-handling space, the expansion will come online in phases, with the first to be completed as early as December.

    The entire project is expected to be fully completed in 2023. In 2020, the Port of Savannah ranked sixth in the Nation for containerized waterborne agricultural exports. Animal feed—mostly distillers’ dried grains with solubles (DDGS)—was one of the Port’s top agricultural exports (a 17-percent share).

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending October 7, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans for marketing year 2021/22 totaled 50.7 million metric tons (mmt), down 17 percent from same time last year and down 1 percent from last week.

    Net corn export sales were 1.040 mmt, down 18 percent from last week. Net soybean export sales were 1.148 mmt, up 10 percent from last week. Net weekly wheat export sales were 0.568 mmt, up 70 percent from last week.

    Rail

    U.S. Class I railroads originated 24,037 grain carloads during the week ending October 9. This was an 8-percent decrease from the previous week, 13 percent less than last year, and 1 percent more than the 3-year average.

    Average October shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $128 above tariff for the week ending October 14. This was $69 more than last week. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.

    Barge

    For the week ending October 16, barged grain movements totaled 813,670 tons. This was 38 percent higher than the previous week and 8 percent higher than the same period last year.

    For the week ending October 16, 510 grain barges moved down river—150 barges more than the previous week. There were 772 grain barges unloaded in the New Orleans region, 3 percent more than last week.

    Ocean

    For the week ending October 14, 42 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—27 percent more than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting October 15), 51 vessels were expected to be loaded—22 percent fewer than the same period last year.

    As of October 14, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $84.75. This was 1 percent more than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $47.00 per mt, 1 percent more than the previous week.

    Fuel

    For the week ending October 18, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased by 8.5 cents from the previous week to $3.671 per gallon, $1.28 above the same week last year. At $4.53 per gallon, California diesel prices are the highest since August 2008.

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