Ida, Nicholas Temporarily Halt Grain Exports From Lower Mississippi River

The double whammy of Hurricane Ida and Hurricane Nicholas have slowed or halted grain exports from ports in Texas and Louisiana for the past two weeks. 

In its grain barge movement reports, the Army Corps of Engineers reported barged grain for the week ending August 28 was down 28 percent from the previous week and 69 percent from a year ago, because of hurricane preparations.

The Mississippi River was reopened relatively swiftly to river traffic after Hurricane Ida, on September 4, with some restrictions. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is open, despite some press reports to the contrary, although traffic is slowed. 

Weekly U.S. Department of Agriculture grain inspections data, an early indicator of shipments abroad, showed the volume of corn weighed and certified for export last week was the lowest in 8-1/2 years as no grain was inspected along the Louisiana Gulf Coast, the busiest outlet for U.S. crops.

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According to Farm Policy News, more than 50 bulk vessels were waiting on the Lower Mississippi River for grain terminals to reopen.

Ida’s high winds caused damage to multiple grain elevators and knocked down 30,000 power towers, more than Hurricane Katrina did in 2005, depriving 90,000 people of power. “There’s been some damage to grain terminals along the Gulf Coast that is being evaluated,” said Deb Calhoun, senior vice president of Waterways Council Inc. Some facilities had damage to conveyor belts and other equipment. 

The damage has led to delays in some barges’ schedules.  “A lot of assets have to be moved,” Calhoun said.

Just when recovery efforts were kicking in, Hurricane Nicholas brought in more heavy flooding to the Texas and Louisiana coasts. 

U.S. grain cooperative CHS said September 2 that it would take two to four weeks for power to be restored at its Myrtle Grove, La., grain export terminal after Ida knocked out power. CHS said it planned to divert exports to its facility in Kalama, Wash., and has not accessed the Myrtle Grove terminal for further assessment because of localized flooding.

The Port of New Orleans said each day the river is closed to commerce, there’s a direct economic loss of more than $295 million. The recent closures will add up to more than $1 billion in losses. Reuters reported September 14 that some terminals were resuming operations. 

Calhoun said customers have reason to be optimistic. “This is a resilient industry, and we are used to getting things done at the worst of time,” she said.