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U.S. Gulf Coast grain exports remain crippled by Ida as harvest nears

Stock MarketsSep 03, 2021 05:22PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view of Mississippi River at sunset during a blackout in the city after Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. August 31, 2021. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

By Karl Plume and P.J. Huffstutter

(Reuters) - Much of Louisiana Gulf Coast grain exporting capacity remained shuttered on Friday, as flooding and power outages from Hurricane Ida continue to cripple exports from the busiest U.S. grain shipping port, a state official said.

Crop exporters are anxious for shipping to resume as autumn harvests and the country's peak grain export season loom at a time of strong demand from China. Crop export volumes are due to increase up to five-fold from now to mid-October.

"About 50% of the grain export capacity in the lower Mississippi River is not operational," said Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture.

"The grain harvest is coming in from the Midwest, and a lot of that grain is going to come down the river to us."

Limited grain barge movement has resumed on parts of the Mississippi River that supplies export terminals, allowing some facilities such as a Louis Dreyfus terminal near Baton Rouge to begin recovery, he said.

But the area around the southernmost grain terminal on the river - owned by CHS Inc - is still swamped with as much four feet of water, Strain said.

A 60-mile section of the waterway remains impassible due to downed power lines and sunken or grounded barges, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

More than 50 ocean-going ships are anchored along the Mississippi River waiting for it to reopen so they can load up with corn, soybeans and other commodities, according to shipping sources.

Export inspections of corn over the past week are expected to be the lowest in at least a year, according to analyst estimates gathered by Reuters ahead of a weekly U.S. Department of Agriculture report on Tuesday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it expects to complete a survey of the shipping channel by early next week, at which point crews will be dispatched to remove any obstructions or sunken boats.

Farmers' profits will suffer if the region does not resume operations before harvests ramp up, said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.

"If the export facilities in the region are not back up and running at normal capacity by this time ... we will essentially be attaching a garden hose to a fire hydrant," he said.

U.S. Gulf Coast grain exports remain crippled by Ida as harvest nears

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