Recovery, Resilience And Demand Shifts To Drive Inland

Waterway traffic is coming back. November 2021 saw 52.1 million tons moving on the U.S. inland waterway system, the highest monthly tonnage since October 2019, a few months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shutdowns and stoppages of early 2020. Flows estimated by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, based on data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) show a 25% rise from June 2020. Data in a presentation by The Waterways Council Inc (WCI), also using USACE data, showed overall tonnage, in 2019, of 514.9 million short tons, with petroleum and products leading (with 150 million tons), followed by coal (95.6 million tons), aggregates (81 million tons) and grains (77 million tons).

During 2021, selected barge grain movements (moving through key locks, approximately half of overall tonnage shown above) were down slightly from the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s December 30 Grain Trade Report. Michael Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, in speaking with Marine News, stressed the linkages between the export markets and agricultural transportation on the rivers, noting that the U.S. exported 60.5 million total metric tons of soybeans in the marketing year ended August 31, 2021 adding that, overall, 35 million of the total went to China. He said the leading export region is the Mississippi/Gulf, accounting for 27 million tons in the 2020/202....

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