Let’s Talk About Bridges and Barges…

May 18, 2021

Last Friday, we failed to note one bridge-sized reason why commodity prices nosedived other than a semi-wonky WASDE report.

In case you missed the Commodity Corner in Friday’s newsletter, all you need to know is the arrows were red, and prices were down. Way down. Enter, bridge probz.

What bridge? The Hernando de Soto Bridge, of course.

Ok…we had to look it up, too. It carries I-40 across the mighty Mississippi between Memphis and eastern Arkansas.

On Tuesday of last week, crews found an alarming crack in the bridge structure and immediately stopped all traffic, both on the bridge and below it. That began a barge traffic jam for the ages.

Nearly all grain exported by river in the U.S. passes under the de Soto bridge as it sits downstream of many major river terminals. So news of commodities cut off from their Gulf of Mexico launchpad left the markets in a bit of a tailspin.

By Thursday, there were over 1,000 barges backed up on the river. Fortunately, further inspections found it was safe for vessels to venture under the bridge, and that got grain moving again by Friday, on its way to foreign destinations.