Grain Shipping Affected By Mississippi River Problems

Grain Shipping Affected By Mississippi River Problems

Rising water levels on Mississippi River closed some sections of the river this week, affecting grain shipping.

Closures of locks and dams on the Mississippi River from Iowa south to St. Louis, Mo. this week have interrupted grain shipping. Expected reopen date for the seven closed locks and dams is unknown, though the river at each affected lock and dam has crested. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Rock Island District, near Davenport, Iowa, says another potential rise in the Mississippi River levels may be on the way due to snowmelt runoff in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

FROM LOW WATER TO FLOODING: Sections of the Mississippi River remained closed this week after separate incidents of rising water led to barges breaking free from tows, resulting in damaged and sunken barges. Seven locks and dams from Iowa south to and beyond the St. Louis area are closed due to high water. Expected reopen date for the seven was unknown as of April 22 although the river level at each lock and dam had crested.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition based at Ankeny, Iowa, has pulled together some interesting information regarding the rising water level on the Mississippi River, the Illinois River and the Missouri River. He points out that:

* "To state the obvious, we are living in an era of extremes. A few months ago, I and others were talking exhaustively about low water levels on the Mississippi River and its impact on barge transportation. Now the topic is high water levels. On January 1, 2013 the water level on the Mississippi River at St. Louis was 4.57 feet below the river gauge. Tomorrow the level at St. Louis is expected to rise to 39.4 feet above the river gauge. We will therefore witness a 45-feet swing in water levels in 4 months.  Remarkable..." * "Most of the locks between the Quad Cities and south of Quincy, Ill. (locks 16-22, in particular) are closed. They are expected to reopen soon. Water levels this high can exceed the height of the locks and dams requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to close them. Also, rising water levels will usually produce a more turbulent current, which makes barge transportation more perilous. The U.S. Coast Guard reported that 114 barges broke loose near St. Louis on Saturday night April 20 -- four hit the Jefferson Barracks Bridge. Most of the runaway barges have been corralled, but a number of them sank and a couple are still unaccounted for.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

* "Some agricultural products will be more affected by this interruption of navigation than others. The lock closures will impact corn more than soybeans.  Graphs which you can view on the Soy Transportation Coalition's website highlight, 80% of soybean exports occur between September and February. When South American harvest comes online, our exports drop significantly. The reverse happens when our harvest occurs. You'll notice that corn exports are more evenly distributed throughout the year." 

* "We have seen aggressive pricing at Gulf locations due to a demand for corn and soybeans since the river is not providing that pipeline of service. Basis has been widening in the interior since grain handlers can't release what they have on hand and what they are receiving. While most soybean exports have already occurred, the major logistical challenges currently in Brazil are increasing demand for U.S. soybeans so this does have relevance to the soybean industry."   

* "It's important to remember that an operable river system is not just important for transporting what farmers produce, but it's essential for the delivery of inputs as well.  According to USDA, April is the No. 1 month for barge deliveries of fertilizer. These shipments originate in southern Louisiana and are destined to the Midwest. 

Cargo capacity (soybeans): Barge vs. Railroad vs. Truck

* One Barge: 52,500 – 57,000 bushels

* One 15 barge tow: 787,500 – 855,000 bushels

* One rail hopper car: 3,500 – 4,000 bushels

* 100 car unit train: 350,000 – 400,000 bushels

* One semi: 910 bushels

Mike Steenhoek is executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition headquartered at Ankeny, Iowa. The address is 1255 SW Prairie Trail Parkway, Ankeny, Iowa  50023. You can contact him by phone at 515-727-0665 or click here for more information. Established in 2007, the Soy Transportation Coalition is comprised of 11 state soybean boards, the American Soybean Association, and the United Soybean Board. The goal of the organization is to position the soybean industry to benefit from a transportation system that delivers cost effective, reliable and competitive service.

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