Part of the Mississippi River has been restored to barge traffic in a one way direction. And while that is not a full restoration of river traffic, it is a start in a complex effort to determine just how long it will be before grains are shipped again down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans, thanks to Hurricane Katrina.
HOBBIE: We understand that the Army Corps of Engineers have crews on the Mississippi River checking, doing depth findings, and checking to determine if the channel is open or if the channel has shifted what kind of navigational changes you'll have to make as you bring ships upstream and I expect until that's done, there's probably not going to be much in the way of ships moving up river at this point, and we just don't know when that will begin again.
Ken Hobbie is President of the U.S. Grains Council. And he says so far what limited news has been received on grain exporting facilities on the Gulf of Mexico is good, with most receiving no or minimal damage as a result of Katrina. So now what does all this news have to do with the Northwest grain industry, and in particular, the shipment of grains through Northwest ports? After all, a significant amount of U.S. wheat already goes through our region's ports. And as Hobbie points out, our facilities have already received increased traffic of other commodities prior to Katrina's arrival on the Gulf shore.
HOBBIE: Out in your area in the last year or so that has with rising freight prices the facilities along the West Coast, particularly the Pacific Northwest, have been pretty busy moving corn and soybeans out through that exit point to markets in Asia.
But the question is will there be increased traffic at Northwest ports as a result of Katrina? Hobbie says the long term answer is unknown. He says while there are any number of ports in the nation that can handle grain traffic from the Midwest states if need be, what would drive any additional grain export traffic to our ports would be price, as in how the change in logistics would change the price of the commodity, and how urgently the customer needs their supplies.
HOBBIE: There is a lot of grain that leaves on a day to day basis, and that grain leaves and is anticipated to arrive at a particular point in the globe and be unloaded so that there are cows, pigs, and chickens that can be fed on time.
In our next program, how has the hurricane impacted the fertilizer, farm chemical and natural gas industries from a national, and Northwest, standpoint.