In many northern locations including the Upper Mississippi River, severe winter weather created obstacles for downbound barge traffic over the past month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today.

However, the weather and logistics both show signs of improving. For the week ending Feb. 12, downbound barged grain movements through the Mississippi River locks dropped to 426,106 tons—38% lower than the same week last year and 29% lower than the previous five-year average, the USDA said in its weekly Grain Transportation Report (GTR).

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, ice also complicated both up and downbound barge movements, creating delays, according to the GTR. 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, the USDA said.