Moving Grain: Winter Weather Snarls Barge Traffic, Conditions Improving

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    Winter Weather Snarls Barge Traffic, but Conditions Are Improving

    In many northern locations (including the Upper Mississippi River), severe winter weather created obstacles for downbound barge traffic over the past month. However, the weather and logistics both show signs of improving.

    For the week ending February 12, downbound barged grain movements through the Mississippi River locks dropped to 426,106 tons—38 percent lower than the same week last year and 29 percent lower than the previous-5-year average. Likewise, cold weather and ice created delays on the Illinois River, as all locks required operators to practice ice couplings (i.e., a way of joining barges to one another with freezing water).

    On the Upper Ohio River, also, ice complicated both up and downbound barge movements, creating delays. In St. Louis, low-water conditions forced barge operators to reduce both tow sizes and weights. Despite all of these persistent challenges, the industry is optimistic that navigation will continue to improve in mid to late February, with the arrival of warmer temperatures.

    USDA Research Compares U.S. and Ukrainian Logistics in Exporting Corn

    USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service recently summarized research conducted in cooperation with North Dakota State University. The research report is titled Logistical Competition for Corn Shipments From the United States and Ukraine to Targeted International Markets. The researchers examine and compare the relative advantages and disadvantages of the United States and Ukraine in major corn export markets.

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    Both countries had advantages in major markets. From 2015-19, the United States had a logistical cost advantage over Ukraine in serving China and South Korea (from the U.S. Gulf) and Japan (from the Pacific Northwest (PNW)). However, for most of the 2015-19 study period, Ukraine was the dominant supplier of corn to China.

    The study authors suggest Ukraine’s dominance probably reflects China’s goal of diversification, its willingness to pay a premium for non-U.S. origin corn, and its desire for less transparent trading mechanisms. Ukraine had a cost advantage over the United States in serving the European Union (EU) and Indonesia.

    However, that advantage mostly derived from the EU’s extra 25-percent tariff applied to corn imports from the United States, as well as from the EU’s restrictions against genetically engineered corn imports.

    FMCSA Extends HOS Waiver for Transporting Fuel in Midwest

    On February 3, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) extended a regional emergency order waiving hours-of-service (HOS) regulations for drivers of commercial motor vehicles carrying petroleum and propane products. The major grain-producing States affected by the order are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

    The HOS waiver is largely intended to ensure adequate supplies of propane and petroleum products—necessary for continuing to process and dry harvested crops. The waiver is extended through March 8 or the end of the emergency, whichever is earlier. The order was originally issued on January 7.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending February 3, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans for marketing year 2021/22 totaled 38.7 million metric tons (mmt), down 26 percent from the same time last year, and down 1 percent from the previous week.

    Net corn export sales were 0.589 mmt, down 50 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were 1.596 mmt, up 46 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales were 0.085 mmt, up 47 percent from the previous week.


    U.S. Class I railroads originated 23,517 grain carloads during the week ending February 5. This was a 6-percent decrease from the previous week, 10 percent fewer than last year, and 3 percent more than the 3-year average.

    Average February shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $38 above tariff for the week ending February 10. This was $633 less than last week and $229 lower than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


    For the week ending February 12, barged grain movements totaled 426,106 tons. This was 27 percent lower than the previous week and 37 percent less than the same period last year.

    For the week ending February 12, 270 grain barges moved down river—93 fewer barges than the previous week. There were 823 grain barges unloaded in the New Orleans Region, 31 percent more than last week.


    For the week ending February 10, 32 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—33 percent fewer than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting February 11), 53 vessels were expected to be loaded—15 percent fewer than the same period last year.

    As of February 10, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $65.00. This was 7 percent more than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $36.00 per mt, 6 percent more than the previous week.


    For the week ending February 14, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 6.8 cents from the previous week to $4.019 per gallon, 114.3 cents above the same week last year. At $3.884 per gallon, the average Midwest diesel price increased 40.7 cents in the past 6 weeks.

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