As the mercury falls and the calendar comes to an end, U.S. grain and oilseed shipments typically slow as well. This year is somewhat of an exception, however, according to Federal Grain Inspection Services (FGIS) data. Weekly shipments have mostly been steady at between 2,000 to 3,000 thousand metric tons (TMT) for much of this year. This is in stark contrast with last year, which saw a strong start to the calendar year before shipments slowed into the summer months and rebounded sharply again in the fall. The explanation for this typical seasonal pattern represented in 2017 has to do with when the U.S. typically garners its largest share of the world export market. For crops seeded in the winter, such as winter wheat, this is the summer time, while spring-planted row crops like corn and beans are harvested later into the fall.

In order to narrow the scope to gauge current capacity at key export terminals, weekly data for shipments in the first week of December were compared with the highest weekly values for calendar year 2017 and year-to-date 2018. Two key points were identified – as they represent anywhere from 57 to 93 percent of all U.S. exports over the period – the Columbia River, in the Pacific Northwest, and the Mississippi River, in the Gulf of Mexico. Shipments the first week of December totaled 63 percent of the biggest weekly rate at the Columbia River over the period, and just 53 percent of the largest at the Mississippi River. This year’s weekly shipments at these two points trailed the same week last year 23 times out of 49 weeks studied.   The largest disparities were seen in October and November, where inspections for exports were off last year’s pace by about 1.970 million metric tons (MMT). This extra capacity at two shipment points for U.S. soybeans, coupled with historically large domestic soybean stocks, suggests that the U.S. has plenty of loading capacity to increase shipments of U.S. soybeans.