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U.S. Grain Exports Face Hurdle If Floods Worsen

High water on the Mississippi River has slashed grain shipments by about 40 per cent and could pose a threat to exports from the U.S. Gulf, the main exit for agricultural products to world markets, industry sources said April 27.

Grain exporters have for the moment been able to continue loading vessels at Gulf terminals, drawing from supplies they have on hand and from river elevators not yet hit by flooding, which in some areas of the Midwest was the worst in more than 70 years.

But with water rising on already-swollen rivers and with more rain in the forecast in the week ahead, the temporary shipping logistics headache could turn into a major problem if the skies do not clear up soon.

“The barge industry is just hanging on and trying to stay in a safe place while the water goes up and comes back down. The good news for us is that most of our assets float so this is really more of a spring flood delay than anything else,” said Larry Daily, president of Alter Barge Lines, Inc.

Barge lines are tying up vessels in some areas instead of braving strong currents that make downriver freight harder to control. Upriver movement against the current was painfully slow and high fuel prices have only added to shipping costs.

Several locks on the upper- Mississippi River were shut down last month as the combination of melting snow and heavy spring rains swelled the key grain-shipping waterway, effectively cutting off the supply pipeline for grain shippers at the Louisiana Gulf.

Rising water on the Ohio River has essentially closed the waterway.

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