Despite container availability challenges and several rounds of rate increases from carriers during the first half of this year, containerized grain exports recovered in 2010 from the recessionary pressures of 2009.
Year-to-date shipments were nearly 30% higher than 2009, according to USDA Grain Transportation reports. These shipments are influenced not only by demand for products overseas but also the competition with bulk ocean freight, which has been relatively inexpensive, according to USDA.
Soybeans continue to be the top containerized grain export, followed by distillers’ grains, which have been in great demand this year, particularly in China and Vietnam.
Sufficient equipment is becoming available even in locations that typically run a container deficit, such as Minneapolis. Vessel capacity has returned to near pre-recession levels, easing the tight vessel capacity situation. Container manufacturers in China that stopped production in late 2008 and 2009 have increased production again, but not quite to the level of pre-recession demand.
Shippers remain concerned that container availability could tighten in 2011 as import traffic tapers off. Historically, January import traffic continues but is lower than other periods. The shortage of import containers during this time puts pressure on the availability of equipment for exports because import containers provide the supply of equipment for the export market.