Worldwide shipping remains snarled. Disruptions that began with the pandemic continue to ripple from nation to nation. Pandemic lockdowns are still disrupting trade in China. Russia’s bid to conquer Ukraine through war has idled Europe’s breadbasket. Few ships can transit the Black Sea. Fuel pipelines from Russia to much of Europe are shutting down. A leaking oil tanker in danger of breaking up off the West Coast of Yemen is still threatening to shut down a large portion of the Red Sea and possibly the Suez Canal. Ships are still delayed at ports worldwide. Shipping containers are not where they are needed most.
The “just in time” worldwide system for shipping goods from nation to nation to arrive as they are needed is broken. Some wonder if a system will develop that obtains goods only from secure partners, from domestic production or from altogether new sources.
In this time of continuing uncertainty in shipping, Wisconsin continues to move produce into and out of the state. International trade travels to and from Wisconsin’s Great Lakes ports through the St. Lawrence Seaway. U.S. shipments of grain via the seaway are about 38 percent more than at the end of May 2021; many grain shipments are heading to Europe and Africa. Increased shipments of wind turbines, road salt and coke were also reported.
The Port of Duluth-Superior on Lake Superior reported 137 ship arrivals through the end of May compared to 162 at the same time in 2021.
• Total waterborne commerce decreased from 7.4 million short tons through May 2021 to about 5.8 million short tons through May of this year.
• Overseas tonnage increased slightly from 2021, to about 207,000 short tons.
• Total domestic tonnage decreased by almost 2 million short tons to about 4 million.
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The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership reports that Port Duluth-Superior reentered the containerized shipping business with a shipment of 200 containers of Wisconsin- and Minnesota-produced kidney beans to Europe. Bulk shipments of sugar-beet pulp were also accomplished in May.
The port reported the sale of the idle General Mills Elevator A facility on the waterfront in Duluth, Minnesota, to Hansen-Mueller Company, saying the facility will reenter active service soon.
The Port of Green Bay, the western-most port on Lake Michigan, reported 29 ships visiting through the end of May; year-to-date tonnage is 32 percent less than at the same time in 2021. It’s impossible to predict if the port will reach its target of 2 million tons of cargo this season. Limestone and cement lead tonnage totals.
The big news from the Port of Milwaukee continues to be passengers, not cargo. Cruise ships continue to be the most frequent commercial visitors to the port this season, with as many as 1,000 passengers passing through the port in a recent week. The port reports construction progress on the new DeLong agricultural maritime-export facility that’s expected to open in 2023.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s mid-June Grain Transportation Report, rail shipments of grain were more than 23,000 carloads, a 12 percent increase compared to 2021 and 13 percent more than the three-year average. Railroads originate about 24 percent of U.S. grain shipments. The report indicated barge traffic totaled 828,930 tons the week ending June 11, 42 percent more than the previous week and 1 percent more than the same period in 2021. It should be no surprise that transportation costs have increased for most grain shipments.
Fuel prices have increased sharply during the past few months, stoking overall inflation in the prices of goods and services. But some parts of the nation have seen prices level out and even decrease. There are also reports of a decrease in demand for gasoline in some areas compared to a year ago.
Fortunetellers must be doing a land-office business. Their guess is as good as anyone’s regarding what will happen next to influence world shipping. As more nations experience widespread hunger and famine, unrest and upheaval become more likely. War continues to threaten to spread in Europe. Are the costs of fuel still stoking further price inflation, or has inflation peaked? With drought in Africa and parts of North America, crop failures in China and unrest in Latin America, will North American food production be able to meet world demand? And will increasing agricultural-commodity prices go far enough to cover increased costs for farmers?
As good as prognosticators have become, the only way to answer all these questions is to live long enough to see for ourselves.
This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.
Jason Maloney is an “elderly” farm boy from Marinette County, Wisconsin. He’s a retired educator, a retired soldier and a lifelong Wisconsin resident. He lives on the shore of Lake Superior with his wife, Cindy Dillenschneider, and Red, a sturdy loyal Australian Shepherd.