Upper Mississippi Boating Season Unofficial Start – AgFax

Barges on the Mississippi River. ©Debra L Ferguson

USACE announced the unofficial start of the 2022 boating season on the Upper Mississippi

On March 21, the 2022 navigation season on the upper Mississippi began, as announced by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Hailing from Saint Louis, MO, and pushing nine barges, the motor vessel W. Red Harris kicked off the unofficial start of the season: this boat was the first of the season to break through the ice of Lake Pepin (between Mississippi River Lock and Dam 3 and lock and dam 4).

Lake Pepin is the last major obstacle for ships reaching the head of the shipping channel in St. Paul, MN. For the past 30 years, the average opening date of the season has been March 20, but this date varies from year to year depending on water conditions.

USDA partners with NWSA to improve agricultural exports

On March 18, the USDA announced a partnership with the Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) to improve access to a 49-acre “pop-up” site at the NWSA in Seattle. To reduce operational hurdles and costs, the site will begin to accept dry and refrigerated agricultural containers for temporary storage.

From their new positions on the pop-up site, containers can be loaded onto ships at export terminals more quickly. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will make payments to agricultural businesses and cooperatives that use the NWSA pop-up site for containers filled with agricultural products grown in the United States.

FSA payments of $200 per dry container and $400 per reefer container will help cover additional logistics costs, including drayage and storage, associated with using the site. Encompassing ocean freight operations from the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, WA, NWSA is the second-largest container gateway for containerized agricultural exports from the United States.

Canadian Pacific resumes operations

Ending a work stoppage that lasted 2 full days, Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) have agreed to settle their labor dispute through binding arbitration. Work in the Canadian operations of the railway had stopped on Sunday March 20 and resumed at 2 p.m. EDT on Tuesday March 22.

CP is a major supplier of fertilizers, especially potash, in the United States and abroad. Global potash supply has shrunk since producers in Russia and Belarus effectively stopped exporting the raw material after Russia invaded Ukraine. Given that some growers pre-positioned fertilizer prior to the shutdown and the shutdown only lasted 2 days, its impacts on potash production and delivery should be limited.

However, some disturbances are to be expected. On Tuesday, CP said it would work with customers to resume normal train operations across Canada as soon as possible.

FMC Announces Shipping Carrier Audit Program to Focus on Export Service

On March 21, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) announced that its Vessel-Operating Common Carrier (VOCC) audit program will be expanded to assess carriers’ export performance and service. FMC will meet with 11 carriers to discuss their export programs and identify opportunities to improve or increase access to service offerings for exporters.

In July 2021, the VOCC audit program was initially set up to assess the compliance of ocean carriers with the FMC rule on demurrage and detention. The program was also created to gather information to assist FMC’s ongoing monitoring of ocean freight services.

Insights by sector

Export sales

For the week ending March 10, unshipped balances of wheat, corn and soybeans for the 2021/22 marketing year totaled 38.5 million metric tonnes (mmt), down 11% from same period last year and up 3% from the previous week.

Maize net export sales were 1.836 mmt, down 14% from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were 1.253 mmt, down 43% from the previous week. Weekly net export wheat sales were 0.146 mmt, down 53% from the previous week.


US Class I Railroads shipped 21,213 grain cars in the week ending March 12. This is down 15% from the previous week, 11% lower than last year and 1% higher than the 3-year average.

Average April Shuttle side car deals/offers (per car) were $2,313 above the rate for the week ending March 17. That was $1,238 more than last week and $2,095 more than this week last year. There were no offers/offers other than the shuttle this week.


For the week ending March 19, grain movements by barge totaled 693,000 tonnes. This was 22% more than the previous week and 4% less than the same period last year.

During the week ending March 19, 420 grain barges sailed down the river, 54 barges more than the previous week. There were 639 grain barges unloaded in the New Orleans area, down 6% from last week.


For the week ending March 17, 34 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, down 8% from the same period last year. Over the next 10 days (starting March 18), 59 ships were expected to be loaded, 5% more than the same period last year.

As of March 10, the shipping rate for one metric ton (mt) of US Gulf grain to Japan was $74.50. It was 6% less than the previous week. The Pacific Northwest rate in Japan was $42.75 a tonne, 3% lower than the previous week.


For the week ending March 21, the average U.S. diesel fuel price fell 11.6 cents from the previous week to $5.134 per gallon, 194 cents higher than the same week last year. .

Full report.

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