Hurricane Ida disrupts Gulf grain flow  

Grain elevators near the Louisiana coast remain without power and companies are continuing to evaluate structural damage after bearing the impact of Hurricane Ida earlier this week. As companies attempt to resume power, uncertainty abounds surrounding the timeframe for transportation and grain exports to resume. 

Statewide, 917,000 residents still had no power as of Sept. 2, days after Ida tore through Louisiana, causing flooding and knocking out the transmission lines to New Orleans. 

Officials at the Port of New Orleans said their initial surveys show no major damage to container and bulk transportation facilities. However, traffic on the lower Mississippi River remains suspended.

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 70 sunken barges and 95 vessels were in queue to move down the river as of Sept. 1. 

Meanwhile, the Canadian National and Kansas City Southern Railways are hindered due to downed trees and powered lines on tracks and at rail yards, reported DHS and FEMA on Sept. 2. BNSF, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific Railways have fully resumed operations, while CSX rail operations will resume on Sept. 6.

DHS and FEMA said trucks servicing gas stations were waiting in lines for up to seven hours to load fuel this week. President Joe Biden noted in remarks from the White House on Sept. 2 that he is directing federal agencies to help ease the fuel shortage. “I’ve directed the secretary of energy, Jennifer Granholm, to use all of the tools at her disposal, including using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to keep gas flowing in order to critical supplies to the region,” Biden said. The president is scheduled to visit Louisiana on Sept. 3. 

In a call with New Orleans area customers on Wednesday, the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) noted that large numbers of workers and staff for grain elevators and FGIS are scattered from North Carolina to Texas until power is restored in the area. FGIS said its locations in Lake Charles, Crowley and Port Allen are operating normally. The agency said that they could perform stowage exams for vessels waiting to enter a facility if staff can travel to the site. 

FGIS also said it would consider granting waivers for inspections on a case-by-case basis. Notably, 15,000 million metric tons (mmt) of grain can be exported without an inspection and weighing certificate on an annual basis, but one vessel can hold twice that amount. 

Grain companies have noted that once the U.S. Coast Guard allows movement for vessels to begin or complete loading, it will be critical to have power and staff available as soon as possible. 

Gulf grain movement: In 2021, 50 percent of U.S. grain exports traveled through the Mississippi Gulf region, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The most recent data (pictured below) shows that 487 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans for the week ending Aug. 21, which is roughly 25.6 million bushels or 730,500 short tons of grain. U.S. grain exports for 2021/22 are projected to be near record levels. Without a functioning Mississippi Gulf region, there is limited U.S. capacity to move the large grain volumes, potentially negatively impacting grain movements by barge and rail and depressing market bids.

Emergency resources: The U.S. Chamber Foundation collected and shared the following resources to help small businesses recover from Hurricane Ida:

Disaster Help Desk for Business: Call 1-888-MY-BIZ-HELP (888-692-4943). The team provides businesses and chambers with direct support from disaster recovery experts.
Small Business Preparedness and Recovery Quick Guides: These guides include tips for small businesses and chambers looking to prepare and recover.
Resilience in a Box: This resource guide helps educate business leaders on disaster preparedness and business resilience.

USDA announced that its Disaster Household Distribution program is approved to start on Sept. 1 to distribute food to Louisiana residents in need. State officials will work directly with food banks to issue up to 800,000 food boxes to individuals in the affected areas. Each of the packages will contain approximately 25 pounds of USDA foods.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from Louisiana called on Congress to pass emergency-funding legislation to help the state recover from the storm. “We are writing you now to alert you to the need for Congress to provide emergency supplemental appropriations to address Hurricane Ida and the storms from last year, as was done following Hurricane Katrina,” they wrote in a Sept. 2 letter.