U.S. barge utilization on the rise

This summer the U.S. Department of Agriculture beefed up its forecast for corn and soybean exports, and that should put smiles on the faces of some dry cargo barge operators. For the current year, the USDA increased its forecast for corn from 46.36 million metric tons to 48.26 million metric tons and soybeans from 47.90 million metric tons to 48.85 million metric tons earlier in the year.

“Things are getting better,” acknowledged Sandor J. Toth, publisher, River Transport News. “We have a strong grain export program that’s going to get stronger in late August and early September.”

A major reason for the bump in expected production are weather-related problems that Brazilian corn producers, a major U.S. competitor, have had this year, including drought and a surprise June freeze. “Brazil’s corn crop has really been stunted,” said Toth.

USDA also raised its forecast for corn for the 2016/2017-market year from 49.53 million metric tons to 52.07 million metric tons, the highest level since the 2007/2008 marketing year, according to RTN. Soybeans for the 2016/2017-market year are forecast to reach 52.25 million metric tons, which, if reached, would be a new record for U.S. soybean exports.

“So things look pretty good for U.S. corn and soybean exports,” said Toth. “But when next spring rolls around all bets are off and we start over again.”

RTN reported that the majority of corn exports moving to the Lower Mississippi River are coming from the upper Mississippi and the Illinois rivers north of St. Louis, which means the shipments are subjected to using the lock system which can cause delays.

For most of the spring and summer of 2016, between 1,000 and 2,000 hopper barges used to move grain shipments were stacked along the waterway system, RTN reported. Many of those idled barges are moving back to the river. “I suspect it’s a minimum number tied to the bank now,” said Toth.

About the author

Ken Hocke

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.

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