Low Mississippi, Retail Trailers: Recent Supply Chain Stress

The tugboat Roberta Tabor pushes barges up the Mississippi River in Granite City, Illinois, USA on Friday, July 9, 2022. Grain traffic has dropped from peak levels, but river levels are now a problem.

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According to National Weather Service office in Memphis, The Mississippi River is forecast to set an all-time record of -10.70 feet either tonight or tonight. The Mississippi River is a vital waterway for trade, and lower water levels have affected the amount of goods that can be imported or exported from New Orleans. Barges cannot be fully loaded. Southbound barge tonnage has fallen by more than 20% on the river, according to the USDA Weekly Transportation Report.

Agricultural shippers of corn, soybeans and wheat are using barges as a cheaper alternative to trucks or rail to transport grain in bulk. Just under half (47%) of all grain is transported by barge, according to the USDA. The Mississippi carries about 5.4 million barrels of crude oil and 35% of thermal coal.

“While the public and the media generally understand that our economy depends on viable international sea, road and rail transportation, the important role of our inland waterways is often overlooked,” said Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agricultural Transportation Coalition. “Our members depend on adequate water levels in the Mississippi River system to reach domestic and international export markets. The supply chain disruption due to low water levels will be felt not only by our American food, agricultural and fiber producers, but also by the United States. as well as international consumers.”

Retailers use trailers for storage

Retailers are moving both large and small items into 53-foot trailers as an alternative to warehouses, logistics experts say.

“We definitely hear from our customers that in the short term, they store larger, bulkier items like furniture in trailers attached to their warehouses,” said Brian Burke, development director at Seko Logistics. “While we don’t store regular inventory in 53ft trailers or containers, we use 53ft containers to store some items like unsorted returns that are less important to focus the warehouse on outbound delivery to customers.”

In addition to furniture and unnecessary things, goods are sent for storage.

“Tires are another big item in stock,” said Joe Monaghan, CEO and president of Worldwide Logistics Group. “We are also receiving orders for 53-foot containers to store products at temporary sites from one to six months.”

The biggest challenges warehouses face right now

Paul Brashear, ITS Logistics vice president of shipping and intermodal, told CNBC that retailers are trying to find creative ways to manage their excess inventory.

“Many distribution centers (DPCs) of our customers are overloaded and they are looking for ways to handle this excess inventory and move all subsequent cargo,” Brashear said. “With such a headwind, those DCs that handle their imports are really under pressure. We identify their high demand SKUs and ship them from their terminals to our pop up transshipment facilities. Then we upload this product to 53-. foot container to move this inventory further inland so it can get to the consumer faster.”

Congestion in an East Coast port

One of the factors affecting reliability is the number of ships that the port receives. Ports with fewer ships, including Charleston, Long Beach, Los Angeles and New York, are seeing improvements in ship reliability, Murphy said. But in Savannah, where dozens of ships are anchored, there are delays that affect the reliability of ship schedules.

“Ports like Savannah are full,” said John McQuiston, Managing Director, Global Head of Trade Finance and Supply Chain at Wells Fargo. “You have ships holding supplies while ports are handling containers. What used to take days now takes weeks due to the number of containers coming in.”

“One of my biggest concerns right now with these congestions is a railroad strike that is putting the third stage of transport out of service,” McQuiston said. “In the US, there would be an element of paralysis in certain sectors of the supply chain if there was a railroad strike. You don’t have enough taxis or drivers to pick up the containers sent to the railroad.”

CNBC’s supply chain heat map data providers are artificial intelligence and predictive analytics company Everstream Analytics; Freightos global cargo booking platform, creator of the Freightos Baltic Dry Index; logistics provider OL USA; provider of forwarding and logistics services Worldwide Logistics Group; supply chain analytics platform FreightWaves; supply chain platform Blume Global; third party logistics provider Orient Star Group; marine analytical company MarineTraffic; marine visibility data company Project44; maritime transport company MDS Transmodal UK; Xeneta Marine and Air Freight Benchmarking Platform and Market Analysis Platform; leading research and analysis provider Sea-Intelligence ApS; Crane Worldwide Logistics; DHL global forwarding; freight logistics provider Seko Logistics; and Planet, a provider of global daily satellite imagery and geospatial solutions.

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