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Ida puts America’s grain export infrastructure to the test

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Destruction is left in the wake of Hurricane Ida on August 31, 2021 in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Ida made landfall August 29 as a Category 4 storm southwest of New Orleans, causing widespread power outages, flooding and massive damage.
Elevator shutdowns, damages and power outages cause shipping delays for grain exporters.

By Kevin Varley

American grain exporters are likely trying to figure out whether it’s worth waiting out shipping delays in the wake of Hurricane Ida or shipping grain using rail transport to lesser used elevators throughout the U.S., especially in the Pacific Northwest.

According to vessel data analyzed by Bloomberg News, no vessels have arrived at any of the USDA export inspection elevators in the lower Mississippi since August 30, putting focus on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, the second largest port of departure for corn, soybean and wheat exports in the U.S.

While 44.3 million tons of U.S. corn, soybean and wheat departed from the Mississippi River in the first eight months of 2021, just 19.6 million departed from the Columbia River, with the majority of it headed to Pacific nations. 

86% of U.S. corn, soybean and wheat exports have been loaded onto bulk carriers and cargo ships at such USDA regulated inspection facilities throughout the U.S. in 2021, with the remainder primarily shipped by rail, and a smaller portion by container.

Cargill and CHS, both of which experienced elevator outages on the Mississippi, have a joint venture in three Pacific Northwest elevators, and have loaded a combined three bulk carriers over the past week, according to vessel data.

Among the other major operators, Kalama Export Terminal had also loaded three bulk carriers loadings during the same time period, and the United Grain Terminal had loaded two. Louis Dreyfus had no loadings at either of its Puget Sound terminals.

Shutdowns of elevators in Louisiana persist, with CHS expecting it will take two to four weeks for power to be restored at its Myrtle Grove elevator and Cargill’s damaged Reserve elevator not providing an estimate of when shipments may restart.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.
TAGS: Exports
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