KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — Last week’s considerable precipitation events across the US central and southern Plains caused little in the way of transportation tie-ups affecting the grain industry, traders and millers said. There were a few brief closures that prevented truck traffic along Interstate 70 in eastern Colorado during the apex of the storm.
However, rail car placement at origins continued to lag for at least two class 1 railroads, millers said, with most orders from those rail companies about two to three weeks behind schedule.
The passage of Baie St. Paul through the St. Lambert Lock marked the reopening of the St. Lawrence Seaway this week for its 63rd navigation season. The seaway, a system of 15 locks between Montreal and Lake Erie, allows passage of ocean-going vessels to the Great Lakes. A vessel passing along its 370-mile length along the St. Lawrence River between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Erie crosses the international border between the United States and Canada 27 times.
In the week ended March 11, 45 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, a 15% increase from the same period last year. In the 10 days from March 12, 55 vessels were expected to be loaded, up 31% from the same period last year, the AMS said.
The rate for shipping one tonne of grain from the US Gulf to Japan was $57.75. This was unchanged from the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $32.50 per tonne, up 1% from the previous week.
North American rail volume on 12 reporting US, Canadian and Mexican railroads in the week ended March 13 totaled 333,556 carloads, down fractionally compared with the same week in 2020, and 381,119 intermodal units, up 22% year over year. Total combined weekly North American rail traffic was 714,675 carloads and intermodal units, up 10%. North American rail volume for the first 10 weeks of 2021 was 6,850,011 carloads and intermodal units, up 3% compared with 2020, according to the American Association of Railroads in its weekly report.
In the latest week, total US weekly rail traffic was 520,736 carloads and intermodal units, up 13% compared with the same week last year. Total US carloads for the week ended March 13 were 230,684 carloads, up 2% compared with the same week in 2020, while US weekly intermodal volume was 290,052 containers and trailers, up 22% compared with 2020.
Grain was among 6 of 10 US commodity groups to post an increase compared with the same week in 2020 at 23,939 carloads, up 20%. Cumulatively, grain carloads in 2021 rose in the latest week to 251,594 for an average of 25,159 per week, a 27% increase over the same period in 2020.
Canadian railroads reported 82,428 carloads for the week, down 3%, and 74,677 intermodal units, up 23% compared with the same week in 2020. Canadian grain carloads in the latest week totaled 10,939, up 43% year-over-year, bringing the 2021 total to 97,376 carloads for an average of 9,738 per week, up 40% from the same period in 2020.
Mexican railroads reported 20,444 carloads for the week, down 13% compared with the same week last year, and 16,390 intermodal units, up 3%. Mexican grain carloads in the week ended March 13 totaled 1,240, down 43% year over year, bringing the 2021 total to 20,187 for an average of 2,019 per week, down 7% from the same period in 2020.
Barge operations continued to normalize and high water conditions on the Ohio River improved in the second half of last week, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service said in its weekly Grain Transportation Report. Water levels are expected to drop more for the rest of this week.
Empty upbound barges passing through the Olmsted Locks and Dam totaled 358 in the week, up 58% from the previous week. Grain barge logistics had seen continuous improvement since the beginning of March along most of the Mississippi River, the AMS reported. The only exceptions were minor-to-moderate high water conditions in the St. Louis area and some Lower Mississippi River locations.
The re-opening of Mississippi River Lock 25 adjacent to Winfield, Mo., was expected this week, the US Army Corps of Engineers said, allowing the industry to prepare for the 2021 navigation season on the Upper Mississippi River, which typically starts in late March or early April when the first vessel passes through Lock and Dam 2 near Hastings, Minn.
In the week ended March 13, barge grain movements totaled 810,186 tons, down 5% from the previous week, but up 52% compared with the same period last year. In the same week, 512 grain barges moved down river, 13 fewer than the previous week. Grain barges unloaded in New Orleans totaled 851, down 1% from the previous week.
TruckingThe US average diesel fuel price in the week ended March 15, was $3.19 per gallon, up 4.8¢ from the previous week and 45.8¢ above the same week last year, the Energy Information Administration said. The highest diesel fuel cost by region was $3.468 per gallon on the West Coast, up 4.6¢ from a week earlier and up 48.9¢ from a year earlier. The least expensive region was the Gulf Coast, where diesel was $2.623 per gallon, up 1.8¢ from the previous week and up 76.3¢ from a year earlier.