Ice impedes U.S. grain barge flow

by Matt Noltemeyer
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grain transportation
High water, low water also choke Midwestern river traffic.
PADUCAH, KENTUCKY, U.S. — Weekly grain barge tonnages on rivers in the midwestern United States has been significantly lower than previous years due ice accumulation beginning in late December.

For the period Jan. 1 to Jan. 15, grain barge tonnages were 496,000 tons, 63% lower than the first two weeks of January 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in its weekly Grain Transportation Report published by the Agricultural Market Service.

Three major river routes have seen significant traffic reduction: the Mississippi, Ohio and Illinois rivers. Near St. Louis, traffic on the Mississippi has been disrupted by low water and ice. Heavy ice buildup is preventing lock gates from fully opening at Melvin Price Locks and Dam, 17 miles north of St. Louis in East Alton, Illinois, U.S., and at Chain of Rocks Lock between Granite City and Madison, Illinois, U.S.

On the Illinois river, ice buildup has significantly reduced traffic. Ten empty upbound barges were recorded for the week ended Jan. 13, a 94% decline from 180 upbound empty barges during the same period in 2017.

Minimal delays were noted after navigation conditions improved at Locks and Dam 52 in Paducah, Kentucky, U.S., one of the country’s busiest locks with about $22 billion a year of commodities passing through it. Navigating the Upper Ohio river has been less favorable, and traffic disruptions have resulted from ice and high water.

Barge grain movements totaled 284,620 tons in the week ended Jan. 13, a 35% increase over the prior week, but down 59% from the same period in 2017. During that week, 176 grain barges moved down river, a 25% increase from last week, and 747 grain barges were unloaded in New Orleans, an 8% decline from the previous week.

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