Moving Grain: USDA, NGFA Express Concern to STB Over Rail Service

    Photo by Ken Hammond, USDA

    USDA and NGFA Express Concern to STB Over Rail Service

    On March 30, USDA expressed concern to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) over worsening rail service. An earlier, March 24 letter from the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) described “significant rail service disruptions,” including facilities that have been unable to ship out or receive grain by rail.

    According to STB’s latest service metrics (posted March 23), train speeds for grain across the four major U.S. Class I railroads were 2 percent lower than prior years, origin dwell times for grain were up 60 percent, and the number of unfilled grain car orders was up 152 percent. At the same time, premiums paid in the secondary market for shuttle service have escalated significantly in recent weeks.

    For the week ending March 24, bids/offers were $2,500 higher than average for shuttle railcars delivered in April and $1,200 higher for May. USDA urged STB take action in the immediate term to improve rail service and to move forward with proceedings that would improve service in the future.

    BTS Resumes Collecting Data on Vehicle Inventory and Use

    The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) recently announced it would conduct a 2021 Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey (VIUS), marking the first VIUS data collection in 20 years. Conducted in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, and U.S. Census Bureau, VIUS once served as the primary data source on the physical and operational characteristics of the U.S. truck population.

    Grain News on AgFax

    For the 2021 survey, 150,000 vehicle owners nationwide were randomly selected to provide information on their 2021 vehicle use through an online portal. Focusing on heavy trucks and truck tractors, the survey will collect information on vehicles’ physical characteristics, installed safety technologies, maintenance performed, and uses.

    Expected to be available in 2023, the collected data will be used to guide infrastructure investments, evaluate truck safety, estimate fuel efficiency and emissions, and understand the products and commodities carried on U.S. roadways. The online survey portal will be open through October 2022.

    California Leases Out Its Properties To Store 20,000+ Containers

    In accord with the California Governor’s Executive Order N-19-21, Chunker (an online warehouse marketplace) has signed leases on six California State properties to provide storage for at least 20,000 shipping containers. The new storage sites are expected to help alleviate congestion at California ports.

    Three facilities are located near the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and two sites are near the Port of Oakland. Chunker will coordinate among California ports, shipping/trucking companies, and cargo owners to move containers to the new sites. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the leading gateway ports for U.S. containerized grain exports.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending March 17 unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans for marketing year 2021/22 totaled 37.6 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 0.979 mmt, down 47 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were 0.412 mmt, down 67 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales were 0.156 mmt, up 7 percent from the previous week.


    U.S. Class I railroads originated 23,317 grain carloads during the week ending March 19. This was a 10-percent increase from the previous week, 15 percent fewer than last year, and 4 percent more than the 3-year average.

    Average April shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $2,756 above tariff for the week ending March 24. This was $444 more than last week and $2,738 more than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


    For the week ending March 26, barged grain movements totaled 805,372 tons. This was 16 percent more than the previous week and 5 percent less than the same period last year.

    For the week ending March 26, 492 grain barges moved down river—72 more barges than the previous week. There were 753 grain barges unloaded in the New Orleans region, 18 percent higher than last week.


    For the week ending March 24, 32 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—3 percent fewer than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting March 25), 47 vessels were expected to be loaded—2 percent fewer than the same period last year.

    As of March 24, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $78.50. This was 5 percent more than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $44.00 per mt, 3 percent more than the previous week.


    For the week ending March 28, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 5.1 cents from the previous week to $5.185 per gallon, 202.4 cents above the same week last year.

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