For the five consecutive weeks ending May 22, grain vessel loading activity has slowed in the U.S Gulf and Pacific Northwest (PNW), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Only 39 oceangoing grain vessels were loading or waiting to be loaded during the week ending May 22, compared to 88 during the peak week ending Feb. 27. Just 29 vessels were loaded during the previous seven days, compared to the high of 52 during the week ending Jan. 23. Forty-six vessels are expected to be loaded in the next 10 days — compared to 97 during the two consecutive weeks ending on Jan. 30 and Feb. 6, according to the most recent USDA Grain Transportation Report (GTR).

In the PNW, only six grain vessels were loading compared to 26 vessels during the peak week ending on Feb. 20. The slowdown in vessel loading activity can be attributed to many factors including reduced grain exports, typical seasonal slow-down and scheduled maintenance at some of the export elevators, the USDA said. Vessel activity outlook is mixed: U.S. wheat exports are projected lower, soybean exports are typically lower this time of year because of the abundant new-crop Brazilian soybeans; however, corn export activity is expected to remain strong the rest of the marketing year as unshipped balances remain high, according to the GTR.

For the week ending May 22, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major port regions reached 1.75 million metric tons (mmt), down 4% from the past week, 82% above last year and 10 percent above the 3-year average. Wheat and soybean inspections decreased 14% and 48% from the past week, but corn inspections increased 9 percent as shipments to Asia and Latin America rebounded, according to the USDA. Despite the drop in total inspections of grain, inspections in the Mississippi Gulf remained strong, increasing 24% from the previous week and 87% above the same time last year. Corn inspections in the Mississippi Gulf jumped 40% from the past week and accounted for 90% of total grain inspected in the region. Pacific Northwest grain inspections decreased 36% from the past week, the lowest since Jan. 2, the USDA said.

During the week ending May 24 barge grain movements totaled 663,166 tons — 6% lower than the previous week but 56% higher than the same period last year. During the week ending May 24, 422 grain barges moved down river, down 7.5% from last week; 606 grain barges were unloaded in New Orleans, up 7% from the previous week, according to the GTR.