The number of grain barges unloading at New Orleans in recent weeks has dropped 14 percent from average levels for this time of year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said, because of river flooding.
In its latest weekly transportation report, the USDA also said that the flow of grain barges on the river system has been running 20 percent below average, although rail hauls of grain shipments have increased.
It was one of several new reports indicating the supply chain for bulk shipments is suffering from the floods.
Flooding may drive up fuel prices by hampering refinery operations at the Gulf of Mexico, and tank barge operator Kirby warned that worsening flood conditions could take a bigger bite out of the quarterly profit it expected.
“With sporadic river shutdowns and traffic restrictions, barge movements have been adversely impacted by the unprecedented flooding,” it said.
For the week of May 7, the USDA said grain barge moves were down 66 percent from the same week in 2010.
“The railroads have absorbed some of the excess grain movements,” with above-average rail grain deliveries at all port areas, and deliveries up 161 percent to the Mississippi River-Gulf of Mexico area, the USDA said. But it said rail shipment delays of 12 to 36 hours continue across a flood region that has extended from North Dakota down to Mississippi.
The transportation impact could be affecting ocean traffic as well. While the first week of May saw a mild increase in the number of grain ships loading at U.S. Gulf terminals, the USDA said the number of ships — 45 — expected to load in the next 10 days was down 14 percent from the same time last year.
And then there is the impact on rates. For the week ending May 6, the cost of shipping grain to Japan from the Pacific Northwest was stable with the week earlier rate, but the rate to load in the U.S. Gulf had increased 4 percent in that same week.