For the week of Oct. 25, the St. Louis barge spot rate increased almost 22% from last week to $88.46 per ton, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today.

However, this rate is lower than the all-time high of $105.85 per ton for the week of Oct. 11, the USDA said. Because of low water levels on the Mississippi River System (MRS), barge companies have little capacity in the spot market as they struggle to meet current commitments, the USDA said in its weekly Grain Transportation Report (GTR) released today.

Future rates are also higher than normal: the current low barge availability, combined with new export sales of soybeans, have increased demand for barges in November, December, and early next year, the USDA said.

The St. Louis one-month-rate (for November) reached $58.61 per ton, 384% higher than last year and 439% higher than the 5-year average. The St. Louis three-month-rate (for January) reached $33.99 per ton, 265% higher than last year and 270% higher than the five-year average.

In the near term, barge challenges and draft restrictions are likely to continue. However, by mid-November, the slightly above-normal rain forecast may begin to provide relief and help stabilize some portions of the MRS, the GTR said.

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