Grain barge rates have been falling for three weeks as navigation conditions have improved on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in the St. Louis area and on the Ohio River, according to the USDA’s Grain Transportation Report released today. 

Ice accumulations have been reduced, and combined with adequate river levels, have reduced costs to barge operators. In addition, the USDA said, (from March 9 to 29) an average of 363 empty barges per week have transited upbound at Mississippi River Locks 27 (near St. Louis), a big increase compared to the January to early March time period when upbound empties averaged 137 barges per week. As a result, current St. Louis barge rates for export grain were 300% of tariff ($11.97 per ton), 50 percent lower than the peak winter rate of 595% of tariff ($23.74 per ton) in early March, according to the USDA. 

During the week ending March 29, barge grain movements totaled 806,266 tons. This is almost 25% higher than the previous week and 123% higher than the same period last year.