During 2019's second quarter, inspections of wheat, corn, and soybeans for export from all major U.S. ports reached 27.7 million metric tons (mmt), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS).

The amount of grain inspected is down 20% from the same period last year, but is 2% above the five-year average. Grain inspections were down in each of the major export regions. Second quarter corn inspections experienced the steepest drop compared to last year, but wheat inspections rebounded for the same period. Soybean inspections were down slightly from last year during the second quarter, but well above the five-year average. Second quarter wheat inspections destined to Africa, Asia, and Latin America increased from last year. Compared to last year, average second quarter outstanding export sales of wheat and soybeans were up significantly, but outstanding export sales of corn decreased notably for the same period.


For the 2019/20 crop year, USDA July export projections for wheat and corn are up slightly from the 2018/19 marketing year, and soybeans are expected to increase over 10%. During the second quarter, Pacific Northwest (PNW) grain inspections totaled 8.52 mmt, down 28% from last year and up 1% from the five-year average. Second quarter rail deliveries of grain to PNW ports were down as well, decreasing 28% from last year. Inspections of grain in the U.S. Gulf totaled 14.3 mmt, down 15%  from last year and equal to the five-year average. U.S. Gulf grain inspections were down primarily due to a significant drop in Mississippi River barge movements of grain. Several river closings took place during the month of June due to high water conditions (June 27, 2019, Grain Transportation Report). Grain inspections in the Atlantic-Great Lakes decreased 28% from last year, during the second quarter, to 0.928 mmt. However, grain inspections from the regions were 25% above the five-year average. Interior (land-based) grain inspections totaled 4.3 mmt, down 10 percent from last year, but 22 percent above the 5- year average. Second quarter inspections of corn for export in the interior decreased 20 percent from last year, due mainly to lower shipments to Mexico and Asia. Corn inspections represented 51 percent of total interior grain inspections. Soybean inspections in the interior decreased 4% during the second quarter, accounting for 39% of total interior inspections. Wheat inspections in the interior increased 26% from last year, during the second quarter, as shipments to Mexico increased.

Corn and Soybean Inspections Down but Wheat Rebounds

Total second quarter corn inspections reached only 12.1 mmt, down 43% from last year. Corn inspections were 24% below the five-year average. The decrease in corn inspections is mainly due to increased competition from Brazil and Argentina, and lower corn shipments to Asia and Europe. Corn inspections in the PNW totaled 3.5 mmt, down 50 percent from last year, and 6 percent below the five-year average. U.S. Gulf inspections of corn were down 43 percent from last year, at 6.3 mmt. In the U.S. Interior, corn inspections reached 2.2 mmt, down 20% from last year. In the Atlantic-Great Lakes region, inspections of corn decreased 86% from last year, to 0.043 mmt.

During the second quarter of 2019, soybean inspections totaled 7.8 mmt, decreasing 4% from last year. Inspections of soybeans, however, were 68 percent above the five-year average. Although total second quarter soybean inspections were lower than last year, they have improved since U.S. tariffs were imposed on Chinese imports. Soybeans inspected for export to China increased about 169% from last year, during the second quarter, and are up 14% year to date. Soybean inspections in the PNW decreased 5% from last year during the second quarter, but were 93% above average. Inspections of soybeans in the U.S. Gulf increased 3% to 4.3 mmt and were 71% above the five-year average.

Interior inspections of soybeans totaled 1.7 mmt during the second quarter, down 4% from last year. Interior soybean inspections, however, were 54% above the five-year average. Second quarter wheat inspections totaled 7.8 mmt, up 45% from last year, and 17% above the five-year average. Wheat inspections in the PNW reached 3.6 mmt, up 10% from last year and 2% above the five-year average. U.S. Gulf wheat inspections rebounded during the second quarter, increasing 135% from last year and reaching their highest since 2013. Atlantic-Great Lakes wheat inspections reached 0.432 mmt, up 92% from last year, with shipments to Mexico and Europe rebounding. As demand from Mexico increased, wheat inspections in the interior reached 0.454 mmt, increasing 26% from last year According to the USDA’s July World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report, corn exports for marketing year 2019/20 are projected to reach 54.7 mmt, unchanged from the previous month, and up 2% from the previous year. Soybean export projections are 51.1 mmt, down 4% from the June estimate, and up 10% from last year. July export projections for wheat are estimated at 25.9 mmt, up 6% from the past month, and 2% above last year.

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.