KANSAS CITY — At least three flour mills have been forced to close due to flooding along with the Mississippi river, but the impact appears far greater as movement of wheat and other grains to mills and flour and other products out of mills has been disrupted amid numerous railroad delays and service outages.
“Ardent Mills pro-actively took down our Alton and Chester, Ill., mills in anticipation of severe flooding,” the nation’s largest flour miller said in a statement to Milling & Baking News. “This ensures the safety of our employees and products and will help us to resume operations more quickly when the water recedes. We are closely watching the water levels and forecasts to determine when we may be back up in operation. In the meantime, we are using our vast network of mills to keep our customers in supply of flour.”
The U.S. Durum Milling, Inc. (Italgrani U.S.A., Inc.) plant in St. Louis also was closed early the week of June 2 because flood waters restricted movement of grain in and products out of the plant, although the plant itself remained operational.
Other major milling companies also reported disruptions largely due to railroad service outages, which were common in southeast Nebraska, central Missouri, southeast Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, southern Illinois and much of Arkansas.
“Severe weather, heavy rainfall and flooding continue to impact operations in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, resulting in … new, prolonged and expanded subdivision outages,” the Union Pacific Railway said on June 3.
While service was restored between El Reno and Oklahoma City, Okla., a new outage was reported from Pine Bluff, Ark., to Dexter, Mo. Continued outages on the U.P. were reported from Kansas City to Jefferson City, Mo., Coffeyville, Kas., to Van Buren, Ark., Parsons, Kas., to McAlester, Okla., Tulsa to Muskogee, Okla., Atchison, Kas., to Oreapolis, Neb., Fort Smith to North Little Rock, Ark., and near Chester, Mo.
“We continue to monitor areas affected by heavy rains, flooding and levee breaches across our network,” the U.P. said. “These outages continue to negatively impact the network by causing terminal and main line congestion in several key locations. This congestion will likely cause service impacts to customers, even in areas not directly affected by flooding. Customers with shipments being routed around the affected areas can expect delays of 48 to 72 hours.”
The BNSF Railway also reported several service outages that affected grain and grain product movement.
“Flooding from severe weather continues to impact parts of the BNSF network in the central and southern Plains,” BNSF said in a May 24 network update. “Repeated heavy rain and storms this week (May 19-25) have caused track outages on multiple subdivisions in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. With several extensive washouts, portions of the Arkansas City, Douglass subdivisions south of Wichita as well as the Cherokee Subdivision east of Tulsa were forced out of service on (May 21).”
While service on the Douglass and Arkansas City subdivisions was quickly restored, BNSF had no estimate as to when the Cherokee, Ft. Scott and Afton subdivisions would reopen.
“Customers with shipments designated to move through these areas should expect ongoing delays and extended transit times until service is restored,” BNSF said.
BNSF service between Keokuk, Iowa, and La Grange, Mo. (the Hannibal subdivision) along the Mississippi river was expected to remain closed through the week of June 2-8. But there was no estimate as to when service would be restored on the river subdivision south of St. Louis between Crystal City and Cape Girardeau, Mo., as the Mississippi river continues to run well above flood stage, BNSF said.
“The ongoing flood issues continue to negatively impact service performance through the core of the BNSF network,” the railroad said.
As was the case in most instances, flour mills themselves were not flooded but rail and/or truck movement into and out of the mills were limited or impossible, which brought milling operations to a halt.
In some cases mills pushed through additional products ahead of the outages before the flood waters forced shutdowns. Most companies also had mills in other areas that were not or were less affected by the Midwest floods, which allowed them to continue to serve customers, although shipment delays were common.
One miller said there would probably be a week to 10-day lag after rail service is restored to catch up on shipments.
The Mississippi river at St. Louis was at 45 feet on June 5 and was expected to crest at 46 feet on June 7. The flood waters will continue to hamper barge traffic as the high water moves downstream.
“Ongoing highwater conditions continue to disrupt barge traffic on most of the inland waterways,” the U.S.D.A. said in its May 30 Grain Transportation Report. There were multiple lock closures on the Upper Mississippi river, and as of May 30, all traffic through St. Louis is stopped, the U.S.D.A. said, noting that the U.S. Coast Guard stops all river traffic at St. Louis when the river gauge exceeds 38 feet, with levels not expected to drop below that level until mid-June.
Barge traffic also was stopped on the Lower Illinois river and much of the Arkansas river, the U.S.D.A. said, while the Ohio river and Lower Mississippi river remained open but were experiencing delays.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports saturated soil levels throughout the Mississippi River Valley Basin are at 25-year highs,” the U.S.D.A. said. “Additional rain, coupled with the saturated soils, may bring faster runoff and rapid jumps in river stages.”