There are plenty of barges available on the Ohio River near Jeffersonville right now. They're waiting for new crop so they can take it to the Gulf Coast. That's the message that Pat Gossen of American Commercial Liens passed along to corn and soybean growers from Indiana and Kentucky last week.
The reason for the backup of barges up river is that elevators on the Gulf are filling up with lower quality grain from the 2009 crop, he noted. They're waiting on what they hope will be better quality grain coming out of the field as the 2010 crop to blend in order to ship the grain without taking big losses for overall quality.
This may be one of the underlying issues that could come into play this harvest. It may affect the supply of barges later on to ship out new corn, until the elevators are emptied in the Gulf region and storage and shipping returns back closer to normal once again.
Elevator operators in Indiana confirm that farmers who usually supply good quality grain all year long haven't been able to deliver that quality this summer. As the summer grew hotter and they moved into their last bins of corn, quality has often deteriorated. Rick Stroshine, a Purdue University Extension grain storage specialist, predicted last fall that corn that went into the bin with quality issues would run into problems if it was held into the summer.
Adding to making his prediction come true is the fact that as outside temperatures become hotter, grain must be stored at lower moisture level to keep molds from beginning to work inside the grain pile inside the bin. The extremely hot weather this summer has worked against long-term storage, instead of helping it.
A typical trip down river for a unit of barges, consisting of 15 barges on the Ohio River pushed by one tow boat, is about 12 days to New Orleans, Gossen says. Once on the Mississippi and past locks and dams, 35-40 barge units on one tow are common. Barge units often make 150 miles per day on the Ohio before they reach Cairo, Illinois, where they join the Mississippi River. Once south of Cairo, tow pilots can make up to 240 to 250 miles per day.
Watch for news of how this situation may affect basis and availability of barges for Gulf shippers later in the season. Stay in touch with your local elevator manager to be alert for situations that might develop.