Memphis bridge closure impacting agriculture shipments

The executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition says the closure of the I-40 bridge in Memphis is very consequential to agriculture, not only because of truck traffic but the barge traffic that would normally pass under the bridge. “Pretty much any barge loaded with soybeans or corn north of Memphis, whether it’s on the upper Mississippi River, the Illinois River, the Ohio River, to an extent the Missouri River, it eventually is going to go past Memphis on its journey to the export terminals near New Orleans.”

Steenhoek says shutting down barge traffic is unwelcome news, and he will be monitoring the impacts for ag shippers closely, including exports going down river and inputs like fertilizer going back upstream.

Steenhoek is concerned the river blockage at Memphis might lead to another transportation problem. “If the suspension of service is going to elongate over time, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the freight rail systems, so you would expect rail rates to go up.”

The Hernando DeSoto Bridge has a cracked steel beam near the center of the “M” span, right over the Mississippi River main channel.  Tennessee and Arkansas officials are committed to repairing the structure but have said it might take several months.  The bridge was opened to traffic in 1973.

As of Thursday, Steenhoek says there are 44 vessels with 709 barges delayed because of the closure. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, barge shipments of grain and soybeans during the week ending May 8th were 50% greater than the previous week and 18% higher than the same period last year.  Steenhoek says the USDA estimates that during that week, barges were loaded with 4.2 million bushels of soybeans and 29 million bushels of corn.

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