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Cash Market Moves             05/14 16:31

   Mississippi River at Memphis Reopens for Business Despite Cracked Bridge

   After being closed early in the week due to a bridge structure concern, the 
Mississippi River was reopened to vessel traffic Friday morning.

Mary Kennedy
DTN Basis Analyst

   After being closed early in the week due to an I-40 bridge structure 
concern, the Lower Mississippi River was reopened to vessel traffic Friday 

   The Coast Guard announced Friday it was lifting the waterway restriction 
from mile marker 736 to mile marker 737 on the Mississippi River to all vessel 
traffic. As of Friday morning, there were 62 vessels and 1,058 barges in queue.

   "Based on information provided to us by the Tennessee Department of 
Transportation, the Coast Guard has determined that transit under the I-40 
bridge is safe for maritime traffic," said Coast Guard Capt. Ryan Rhodes, 
captain of the Port of Memphis. "We appreciate the cooperative efforts of both 
the Tennessee and Arkansas Departments of Transportation, as well as maritime 
port partners, to ensure the safety of our waterway."

   A crack was discovered near the center span in the I-40 Hernando de Soto 
Bridge spanning the Mississippi River at Memphis, Tennessee, during a routine 
inspection earlier this week. As a result, the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday 
closed the river to all vessel traffic between mile markers 736 and 737 on the 
Lower Mississippi River. The move was a safety precaution as more inspections 
were done by the Tennessee Department of Transportation and Arkansas Department 
of Transportation.

   While river shippers were nervous about how long the closure would last, it 
certainly wasn't the first time the Mississippi River has been closed to all 
traffic north and southbound. Flooding, barge groundings, dredging and 
unexpected lock failures have all caused closures -- some catastrophic -- with 
some lasting for many weeks.


   Usually, when river closures happen, we see barge freight and basis on the 
river and at the Gulf affected, as happened midweek this week. Many thought the 
limit-down corn market Thursday and the sharply lower soybean futures were also 
due to the river closure. But, in my opinion and from experience, that was not 
the case. The futures market drops seemed due for a correction and, given the 
extremely high futures prices as of late for both corn and soybeans, traders 
were taking profits. When futures markets start moving lower at a faster pace 
than normal, sell stop orders are hit, and then we see sharp moves even lower.

   DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman had this to say about the grain market action 
this week: "When corn was trading limit down and no one had a good explanation 
for it, people were scrambling and grasping for straws. Rain in the forecast 
for the southern two-thirds of the Corn Belt was a more meaningful bearish 
influence (than the river closure), in my view."

   Hultman added: "As for Friday's sell-off in corn, it was not bridge-related 
at all, but was related to a slim chance for rain in Brazil late next week. DTN 
Ag Meteorologists Bryce Anderson and John Baranick informed us early Friday of 
the nuances in the forecast. The 6.4% drop in Brazil's new-crop corn price also 
points to Brazil being Friday's bearish concern."

   Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, told 
DTN via email that USDA recently reported 982,000 short tons of grain and 
soybeans downbound with 848,000 short tons transiting Lock and Dam #27 on the 
Mississippi River and 134,000 short tons transiting Olmsted Lock and Dam on the 
Ohio. Eighty-four percent of that volume (825,000 short tons or 29 million 
bushels) was corn and 13% (126,000 short tons or 4.2 million bushels) of that 
was soybeans.

   "Those two locks are good links in the supply chain to monitor since most 
any volume going through those two locks will need to pass by Memphis to 
ultimately arrive at Gulf export terminals," Steenhoek said. "They also 
represent the two main feeders -- the Upper Mississippi River and the Ohio 
River -- into the lower portions of the Mississippi River, which includes the 
Memphis area."

   Steenhoek added: "If a single barge accommodates approximately 1,500 tons of 
grain or soybeans, delaying 982,000 short tons of grain and soybeans will 
amount to 655 barges. Because 80% of U.S. soybeans are exported between the 
months of September and February, other commodities, particularly corn, will 
bear more of the brunt of the barge traffic suspension, but soybeans will 
clearly be impacted as well. A disruption in the supply chain is very analogous 
to squeezing a balloon -- pressure can be alleviated in one area, but it will 
be augmented in another (truck/rail)."

   As for the Hernando de Soto Bridge reopening to vehicular traffic, the 
Tennessee DOT noted in a May 14 news release: "The design team is investigating 
the benefits of installing a steel plate to beef up the fractured section and 
thus increase our factor of safety for the existing configuration. The team is 
working on an interim repair design concept that contemplates using steel rods 
that would be attached to the bridge and span over the fractured section and 
provide the needed strength to reopen the bridge to vehicular traffic." For the 
full news release, see


   Steenhoek said the issues with the Hernando de Soto Bridge are a reminder 
that the country's infrastructure needs more attention.

   "If we have such pronounced structural problems with the bridges that are a 
component of our interstate system -- the flagship portion of our nation's 
surface transportation system -- then we clearly must have significant 
challenges with our local bridge inventory -- especially in rural areas," 
Steenhoek said. "The number of structurally deficient bridges in rural America 
affirms this concern."

   The most recent report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers 
gave U.S. bridges a "C" grade. "Currently, 42% of all bridges are at least 50 
years old, and 46,154, or 7.5% of the nation's bridges, are considered 
structurally deficient, meaning they are in 'poor' condition," noted the ASCE. 
Here is a link to the report card for U.S. bridges:

   Steenhoek added: "I routinely express how the United States can increasingly 
be described as a spending nation, not an investing nation. There is a big 
difference between the two. As we move forward, it is my hope that this 
situation will further galvanize efforts to produce a comprehensive 
infrastructure investment strategy that addresses the needs of both urban and 
rural America."

   Mary Kennedy can be reached at  

   Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn

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