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Hurricane Ida Wreaks Havoc on U.S. Bulk Grain Shipping

Interra International | Food Industry News

Though Hurricane Ida did much less property damage to the city of New Orleans than Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Ida’s path over the Mississippi Grain Corridor meant huge impacts on the export of bulk grain. A significant portion of U.S. grain exports ships in bulk via barge, loading upriver where it is grown, transiting down the river system in fleets, and transferring to bulk vessels that export the grain and sail directly to the port of destination.

Ida’s destruction included over 30,000 downed power poles and damage to wires and relay stations. This knocked out power and communications to most facilities along the Mississippi River.

Coast Guard Closes River, Citing Safety Concerns

The Coast Guard closed a large section of the river to barge traffic due to safety concerns, such as power lines in the river, storm debris, and partially sunken barges. They also enacted other restrictions, such as limiting vessel transits to daylight hours.

Six days after landfall of Hurricane Ida, the Coast Guard reopened the river to traffic, allowing recovery efforts of barges and vessels to fully resume.

Elevators and Barges

Grain elevators, which handle bulk grain from barge to silo and/or oceangoing vessel, lost power and some suffered a great deal of damage.  Bucket cranes and floating elevators, which generally handle smaller volumes than the land elevators, did not suffer as much damage, but were limited based on personnel shortages and disrupted barge deliveries. Many barges broke free from their fleets, went aground or sank, or had their covers damaged or blown off, causing damage to the grain or other cargo. Repairs and recovery caused delays, resulting in reduced capacity of barges, further affecting loading of grain to the north as they waited for barges to be emptied.

Shipping Capacity Lost

Prior to the storm, most grain elevators were at full capacity for the start of 2021 crop season, so the time lost during the storm, power outages, and repairs has meant the loss of heavy grain capacity, and at a critical time. According to Reuters, “Ida severely damaged overseas grain shipments weeks before the start of the Midwest harvest and the busiest period for U.S. crop exports, sending export prices soaring and stoking global worries about food inflation.”

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