DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - Barge traffic through the Mississippi River lock in Dubuque fell sharply last year due to the carry-over effects of a drought, but shipping experts expect it to level out in 2014.
Data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows about 11,600 kilotons of commodities traveled through Lock and Dam No. 11 on the northern edge of Dubuque in 2013, the Telegraph Herald reported (http://bit.ly/19Xo7HO ). That's a 16 percent drop from the year before, when about 13,800 kilotons went through the area. A kiloton is equal to 1,000 tons.
Local shipping experts say smaller yields in 2012 from a drought had a carry-over effect.
"The industry in 2013 had a lot of barges and boats idle," said Rick Calhoun, president of Cargill Inc.'s barge division. "There was not enough activity on the river, and there was not enough corn and beans to load onto barges."
Most products shipped along Mississippi River are intended for export, Calhoun said. He noted that U.S. corn exports dropped 700 million bushels last year. A bushel of corn, when on the ears, weighs about 70 pounds.
"When you get into a shortfall of a crop, the domestic market takes it first and the export market takes the brunt of that shortfall," he said.
But experts expect the sharp decline to level out this year.
"Because of the product size in 2013, I think we should get back to normal shipping levels this year," said Delbert Uhlik, a general manager for management firm Gavilon.
Shipping through Dubuque has fallen by more than 40 percent since 2000, the newspaper reported. Officials say that gradual decline can be attributed to growing domestic demand for corn, which is tied to ethanol. There's also the aging infrastructure along the upper Mississippi.
Lynn Muench, senior vice president of American Waterways Operators, said other world leaders are building competitive locks.
"The bottom line is if we are going to be a major exporter of ag products, we have to modernize," she said.
Shipping companies with a local presence say the river is an invaluable resource.
"When I look at bulk transportation, I see truck, rail and barge as a three-legged stool," Calhoun said. "If you take one leg out, it creates an imbalance."
Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com