Market Matters Blog

Barge Traffic Stopped in Upper Mississippi River

By Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
(Chart courtesy USDA)

Heavy rainfall in the upper Mississippi River corridor caused water levels to rise over lock gates from northern Iowa to Missouri, prompting the Army Corps of Engineers to close eight locks. On Monday, high water levels in St. Louis also caused five miles of the river to be closed, shutting down traffic in the Port of St. Louis. Reports were that up to 50 barges were parked along the river due to the closures and dangerous conditions as the river levels rose. By Wednesday morning, the Mississippi River in St. Louis had crested at 40.52 feet and as of mid-Thursday morning, levels had dropped to 39.6 feet with predictions that it will remain above flood stage until June 12. According to the USDA Grain Transportation Report, water levels will need to fall below 25 feet for the Coast Guard to ease any restrictions placed on barges once the river opens. If the current river forecast is realized, the Port of St. Louis may open by the weekend and the closed locks in the upper Mississippi River may be opened by early next week. Shippers in the upper Illinois River were also experiencing high water and ceased loading. While the Illinois River remains open, barges are unable to move grain to the Gulf as the river opening to the Mississippi is north of St. Louis. Corn and soybean river basis levels have been weaker since late last week as shippers wait for waters to recede to either move loaded barges or to receive empties.

Railcar movement was also stopped in many of the same areas where river traffic stopped. According to the BNSF website, some service has been rerouted due to flooded lines through the Iowa to Missouri regions. Most of the flooded areas are predicted to reopen between June 12 and June 13. USDA reported that the Norfolk Southern has detoured rail traffic near Hannibal, Mo., due to rising water impacting rail lines and bridges and expects delays of up to 24 hours.

With navigation problems along the river, grain barge movement during the week ending June 1 totaled 330,304 tons and was 22.2% lower than the previous week and 46.5% lower during the same period last year. During that same week, a total of 248 barges moved downriver, which is 8.5% lower than last year at this time. Grain barges unloaded in New Orleans totaled 267, down 30% from the prior week. A slight rise in barge freight was seen in all river corridors last week, but barge freight may weaken next week on slim demand as barge lines try to catch up with late placements once the river opens. Barge traffic will run slow as high water littered with debris will be treacherous and speeds will also be regulated with no wake zones more than likely to be imposed.

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