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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
2013 to be weakest barge season in decade? (12/04/2013)
By Chris Rogers
Final barge counts have yet to be released, but Winona's harbor was on track for the lowest barge traffic year in recent history as the 2013 shipping season ground to a halt late last month. The vast majority of the area's crops had been harvested by then, but Winona's riverfront saw far fewer grain trucks than in years past.

"This is a remarkably low volume year," said Winona Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin.

"There's not a lot of movement with the barges," agreed CHS Terminal Manager Ken Garness. Corn producers just did not bring in crops to his grain elevator and barge loading facility like in years past, he said. "Most of the corn is going either in the farmers' bins or to ethanol."

While local farmland was plagued with a cold, wet spring that delayed or prevented plantings for many crop farmers, the nation as a whole had a bumper crop this year that has driven prices down. That slump in corn prices has encouraged farmers with their own storage to hold onto their grain until prices rise again, and send less off to the harbor.

"That's just a function of the market," Garness commented. "Sometimes the market pays you to put it in your bin."

Competition hurt the barge industry this harvest season, as well. In recent years, ethanol production has diverted large amounts of corn away from the harbor and to regional biofuel plants. Foreign competition for grain exports have also affected Mississippi barge traffic.

While farmers reported average to above average yields this season, the wet spring decreased the total number of acres in production, reducing the size of the harvest, to be split between harbors, feed mills, and ethanol plants.

"It's low and, sure, that's a concern," McMartin said when asked if this year's barge numbers were troubling to city officials. "However, we realize at the Port Authority that the market fluctuates." Agricultural products, including grain, soybeans, fertilizer, and lime, makes up 85 to 95 percent of Winona's barge shipments, so Winona barge traffic is highly dependent on agriculture, according to McMartin.

McMartin was hopeful that next year would be better. At this point, the low barge numbers for 2013 do not appear to be part of a larger trend. Numbers from 2012 were not far below the 10-year average. Year-end barge numbers dipped in the years after the Great Recession, but by 2010 had risen to be on par with figures from the mid-2000s.by CHRIS ROGERS

Final barge counts have yet to be released, but Winona's harbor was on track for the lowest barge traffic year in recent history as the 2013 shipping season ground to a halt late last month. The vast majority of the area's crops had been harvested by then, but Winona's riverfront saw far fewer grain trucks than in years past.

"This is a remarkably low volume year," said Winona Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin.

"There's not a lot of movement with the barges," agreed Central Harvest States (CHS) Terminal Manager Ken Garness. Corn producers just did not bring in crops to his grain elevator and barge loading facility like in years past, he said. "Most of the corn is going either in the farmers' bins or to ethanol."

While local farmland was plagued with a cold, wet spring that delayed or prevented plantings for many crop farmers, the nation as a whole had a bumper crop this year that has driven prices down. That slump in corn prices has encouraged farmers with their own storage to hold onto their grain until prices rise again, and send less off to the harbor.

"That's just a function of the market," Garness commented. "Sometimes the market pays you to put it in your bin."

Competition hurt the barge industry this harvest season, as well. In recent years, ethanol production has diverted large amounts of corn away from the harbor and to regional biofuel plants. Foreign competition for grain exports have also affected Mississippi barge traffic.

While farmers reported average to above average yields this season, the wet spring decreased the total number of acres in production, reducing the size of the harvest, to be split between harbors, feed mills, and ethanol plants.

"It's low and, sure, that's a concern," McMartin said when asked if this year's barge numbers were troubling to city officials. "However, we realize at the Port Authority that the market fluctuates." Agricultural products, including grain, soybeans, fertilizer, and lime, makes up 85 to 95 percent of Winona's barge shipments, so Winona barge traffic is highly dependent on agriculture, according to McMartin.

McMartin was hopeful that next year would be better. At this point, the low barge numbers for 2013 do not appear to be part of a larger trend. Numbers from 2012 were not far below the 10-year average. Year-end barge numbers dipped in the years after the Great Recession, but by 2010 had risen to be on par with figures from the mid-2000s. 

 

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