The US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has reported that the number of grain barges unloaded in New Orleans during September and October was 20% to 30% lower than in recent years. The slowdown coincides with low water levels in the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and restrictions on barge operators.
Typically, 30 to 40 barges can move down the river together; the new restriction says no more than 25. Since September, tonnage going through locks was more than 40% below recent years.
The significant decline in tonnage is consistent with reports that barges have been required to reduce their draft. Barges are normally loaded to an 11 or 12-foot-deep draft during the fall. However, operators started imposing 9-foot barge draft restrictions in October. That can reduce grain movement by up to 15,000 bushels per barge.