(Adds details on grain prices, barge freight quotes, comments
from Army Corps, context, background)
By Karl Plume
April 19 Barge shipping was halted on Friday on
parts of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers as flooding forced
the closure of several locks until at least the middle of next
week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.
The closures come three months after near-record-low water
along the Mississippi River near St. Louis threatened to halt
commercial barge traffic. Some 60 percent of U.S. grain export
shipments are moved on barges on the Mississippi and its
tributaries from production centers in the Midwest to export
terminals at the Gulf of Mexico.
Torrential rains this week flooded broad swaths of Illinois
and neighboring states, slowing farmer deliveries of grain to
elevators and further delaying the start of corn planting in
Crests on the swollen Mississippi and Illinois rivers were
not expected to arrive until Sunday at the earliest in northern
areas and several days later further south.
"The crest here right now is forecast by the middle of next
week, but there is some rain in the forecast so we'll see if
that changes," said Michael Petersen, spokesman for the Army
Corps' St. Louis district.
"Once the crest has passed and the water has dropped below
the mark that we have to shut it down, and if we know that it's
not coming right back up, we should be able to open them up
within 24 hours," he said.
On the Illinois River, Dresden Island, Starved Rock and T.J.
O'Brien locks were closed due to high water while Marseilles
lock and dam was closed after nine barges broke away from a tow
in record floodwater late on Thursday and struck the dam.
Four of the barges sank and three, including one carrying
caustic soda, remained afloat, said Ron Fournier, a spokesman
for the Army Corps' Rock Island district.
The dam may have been damaged but an assessment cannot be
done until the water recedes and the barges have been removed.
As of Friday, two had been towed from the waterway, he said.
Seven Mississippi River locks, from Lock 16 at Muscatine,
Iowa, to Lock 22 at Saverton, Missouri, were closed between
Thursday evening and Friday morning as water overtopped dams,
said Rob Germann, operations manager for the Army Corps'
Mississippi River project, Rock Island district.
The Corps also was not allowing vessels to pass through lock
15 at Rock Island, Illinois, because they would be unable to
pass below a railroad bridge adjacent to the lock.
Downriver locks 24 and 25 on the Mississippi River were
forecast to close on Saturday, halting commercial navigation on
the major shipping waterway north of St. Louis.
Grain prices at Gulf of Mexico export terminals spiked as
shippers scrambled to get enough grain to load ocean-going
vessels, but prices fell in the Midwest as the grain backed up
Prices for spot barge shipments of corn at the Gulf surged
by more than 10 cents a bushel late this week to a one-month
peak as shippers scrambled to get their hands on enough grain to
load ocean-going vessels.
Spot soybean barge premiums at the Gulf also rallied 10
cents or more to their highest point since January when it
looked as if the then parched Mississippi River would be closed.
Cash prices offered to farmers fell at some river elevators
as barge traffic ground to a halt.
At a terminal along the Mississippi in Savanna, Illinois,
soybean basis bids plunged by 33 cents a bushel to a three-week
low during the last two days.
"We can't load anything out," said a grain merchant across
the river in Davenport, Iowa. "The locks are closed so we are
not going to move anything anyway."
Barge brokers on Friday pulled their freight offers on the
Illinois River and the Mississippi River north of St. Louis
until the last week of April.
The latest river forecasts from the National Weather Service
suggest the lock closures will persist until at least next
(Additional reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing
Jim Marshall, Toni Reinhold)