Moving Grain: Barge Industry Reports Delays Due to Weather

    Mississippi River barges lines up at Port of Rosedale, Mississippi ©Debra L Ferguson

    Barge Industry Reports Delays Due to Winter Weather

    Severe winter weather has complicated shipping on many rivers. Freezing of the Mississippi River has continuously delayed the river’s barge movements since early January. On the St. Louis-to-Cairo section of the Lower Mississippi, freezing and low-water conditions currently slow operations and require reduced tow sizes.

    On the Illinois River, since the second week of January, locks have required ice coupling (i.e., a way of connecting barges to one another with freezing water), and operators have reduced tow sizes there as well. On the Ohio River, barge movements have been delayed by highwater conditions in the Ohio Valley, as well as by snow and ice in Cincinnati and elsewhere on the upper part of the river.

    Since the second week of January, high spot barge rates have reflected these multiple, widespread logistical challenges. The barge industry is operating with extreme caution and preparing for unfavorable weather and water conditions for the rest of January.

    USACE Work Plan Includes Funding for Mississippi River Lock and Dam 25

    On January 19, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced its $22.81 billion plan to implement civil works studies, projects, and programs. The plan uses funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the 2022 Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

    Grain News on AgFax

    One newly funded $732 million project is to complete the design and construction of a 1,200-foot by 110-foot lock chamber for Mississippi River Lock and Dam 25 (near Winfield, MO). Adjacent to the existing 600-foot by 110-foot lock chamber, the new chamber will enable a typical 15-barge tow—transporting over 800,000 bushels of grain—to transit the lock in a single pass. The new single-pass process (30-45 minutes) will vastly improve the current double-pass process (2+ hours), which requires breaking each barge tow into two sections.

    This project is one of the seven authorized lock construction projects under USACE’s Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP). Lock and Dam 25 handles nearly all grain shipped on the Mississippi River from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin to export facilities near the Gulf of Mexico (on average, valued at over $3.6 billion annually over the past 3 years).

    FMCSA Offers Financial Assistance for Implementing CDL Programs

    The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is soliciting applications for fiscal year 2022 financial assistance for implementing commercial driver’s license (CDL) programs. State and local governments and other eligible persons and organizations that support CDL program implementation are encouraged to apply.

    In identifying prospective aid recipients, FMCSA seeks programs that would further its strategic goals for CDL programs. The goals address areas of safety, economic strength and modernization, equity, climate and sustainability, and innovations for the future.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending January 6, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans for marketing year 2021/22 totaled 41.4 million metric tons (mmt), down 16 percent from the same time last year, and down 2 percent from the previous week.

    Net corn export sales were 0.458 mmt, up 79 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were 0.736 mmt, up 92 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales were 0.265 mmt, up significantly from the previous week.


    U.S. Class I railroads originated 21,952 grain carloads during the week ending January 8. This was a 11-percent increase from the previous week, 20 percent fewer than last year, and 1 percent fewer than the 3-year average.

    Average January shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $1,588 above tariff for the week ending January 13. This was $1,171 less than last week and $1,113 more than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


    For the week ending January 15, barged grain movements totaled 491,988 tons. This was 10 percent less than the previous week and 46 percent less than the same period last year.

    For the week ending January 15, 297 grain barges moved down river—53 fewer barges than the previous week. There were 830 grain barges unloaded in the New Orleans region, 2 barges fewer than last week.


    For the week ending January 13, 33 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—down 23 percent from the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting January 14), 59 vessels were expected to be loaded—13 percent fewer than the same period last year.

    As of January 3, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $68.50. This was 3 percent less than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $37.50 per mt, 3 percent less than the previous week.


    For the week ending January 17, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 6.8 cents from the previous week to $3.725 per gallon, 102.9 cents above the same week last year. At $3.603 per gallon, the average Midwest diesel price increased 12.6 cents in the past 2 weeks.

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