High water driving down grain barge tonnage

High water on the inland rivers is taking a toll on grain barge tonnage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Thursday.

Precise grain barge movements down river were not available because of technical issues, USDA said, but data from last week show 13,194 barges were unloaded year-to-date at downbound Lower Mississippi River ports — 15% fewer than last year and 13% below the three-year average. Tonnage of downbound grain at locking portions of the Mississippi, Ohio, and Arkansas rivers was 10 million — 29% lower than last year and 35% lower than the three-year average, according to the USDA’s Grain Transportation Report.

Barge traffic through St. Louis is banned until the Mississippi falls below 38′, which the National Weather Service expects by June 19. It crested at 46′ and was at 44′ Thursday. Flood stage is 30′. (The St. Louis record is 49.58′ set Aug. 1, 1993.)

Flooding has closed many locks on the Mississippi and stopped navigation on the Arkansas River. Reduced tow sizes and daylight hour restrictions under certain bridges have hurt Lower Mississippi traffic. For the week ending June 8, 383 grain barges were unloaded in New Orleans, 14% lower than the previous week, GTR noted.

The trade dispute with China is also having an impact on barge shipments. China imported 4.61 million metric tons (mmt) of U.S. soybeans during the first quarter of 2019, USDA grain inspection data show, down from 6.16 mmt the same period last year. It imported just 0.32 mmt in the last quarter of 2018.

“Hopefully,” the GTR said, “soybean exports to China will pick up as trade negotiations improve.”

 

About the author

Dale K. DuPont

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.

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