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Ice Slows Grain Traffic On U. S. Midwest Rivers

Acold snap increased ice on some key U. S. Midwest rivers last week and slowed the movement of barges carrying corn and soybeans from the heartland to the U. S. Gulf, the top export point for agricultural goods.

Frigid weather in the forecast through the end of the week was expected to increase ice buildup and may ultimately prompt a temporary closure of the Illinois River or part of the Mississippi River to commercial traffic, grain traders said.

Temperatures in the Midwest were expected to remain between -15 and -10C through Jan. 9, according to DTN Meteorlogix forecaster Mike Palmerino.

Most of the upper Mississippi River is essentially closed to barge traffic for the season, with several locks closed through at least February for maintenance and repairs.

The Mississippi is the main channel for grain flowing from farms in the Midwest to export terminals at the U. S. Gulf. Between 55 and 65 per cent of all U. S. corn, soybeans and wheat exports are shipped from the Gulf.

The Mississippi River south of lock 25 at Winfield, Missouri, and the Illinois River remain open, although conditions are very icy.

The U. S. Coast Guard said commercial navigat ion in Peoria Lake on the Illinois River was restricted to one-way traffic from mile markers 169 to 179 due to ice.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has also placed restrictions on the length and width of barge tows allowed to pass through some locks due to ice buildup within lock chambers. The restrictions can nearly double the time it takes barge tows to pass through locks, an army corps spokesman said.

Worries that a river freeze could choke off part of the corn and soybean export supply pipeline helped to support cash prices of both commodities last week, traders said.

Barge freight rates on the Illinois have climbed 35 percentage points of tariff since late last week when the frigid weather moved into the region.

“Exporters are trying to get as much as they can out of there as quickly as they can. Given the current forecast, it’s probably going to close down, but there are still boats running on the Illinois,” a grain trader said.

Corn and soybean supplies at the Gulf are currently sufficient for exporters’ needs, but those supplies could run low if the river problems persist, he said.

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Karl Plume is a reporter for Reuters.

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