© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Boats make their way along the Mississippi river in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., August 28, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo
By Karl Plume
(Reuters) – U.S. crop exports at Louisiana Gulf Coast terminals were at their lowest level in nine years for the first week of October, a period when export shipments typically accelerate, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data issued on Tuesday.
Low water on southern sections of the Mississippi River closed the major shipping waterway for days last week, halting the flow of grain barges from Midwest farms to the nation’s largest grain shipping port.
The ill-timed shipping disruption comes as farmers are busy harvesting corn and soybeans, their top cash crops, leaving exporters scrambling for supplies at the start of the busiest period of the year for overseas U.S. crop shipments.
In a weekly report, the USDA said 976,255 tonnes of corn, soybeans and wheat were inspected for export at the Mississippi River Gulf Coast in the week ended Oct. 6, the lowest for the first week of October in at least nine years and down 22% from the previous five-year average.
Two closed sections of the Mississippi River reopened over the weekend, allowing a backlog of stalled barges to begin moving again, but low water remains a concern for shippers amid a largely dry weather forecast.
Shippers are loading less grain per barge to prevent the vessels from getting stuck in the drought-parched river and towboats are hauling fewer barges per tow to navigate the narrowed channel.
Traders expect a slow start for exports in the fourth quarter, when a third or more of the year’s exports are typically loaded and shipped.
“I expect inspections to be below average over the next few weeks and then really ramp up. It doesn’t very long to boost shipments out of the Gulf if there are ships ready,” said Terry Reilly, senior commodities analyst with Futures International.