Commercial tonnage shipped on the Arkansas River in the first four months of 2022 was 3.515 million tons, up 1.9% thanks to a 45.8% rise in shipments between ports on the river system, according to figures from the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
April tonnage was down 18% compared with April 2021.
Inbound shipments – those coming from off the river system – totaled 1.277 million tons during the first four months, down 18% compared with the same period in 2021. Outbound shipments totaled 1.165 million tons, down 4% compared with the same period in 2021. Internal shipments – those sent between port operations on the river – totaled 1.072 million tons, up 45.8% compared with the same period in 2021.
Bryan Day, executive director of the Port of Little Rock, said the year has been good for the port, but recent rains are delaying traffic and will likely push May numbers lower.
“April was a strong month for the Port of Little Rock with our team working 32 barges. Year-to-date the Port of Little Rock has worked 134 barges with about 200,000 tons of commodities. This is up slightly from the previous year,” Day noted.
He said the products handled at the port include aluminum, steel coils, fertilizer, rock and sand, and gravel.
“Heavy rains have caused high flows on the Arkansas River, and this is causing delays with commercial traffic. Because of these delays, we anticipate our barge count to drop a little during May,” Day said.
Ports are also active upstream.
“I am as busy as I have ever been right now. It’s busier than I’ve seen it in a long time. Busier than any other time in my 27 years,” said Marty Shell, president of Van Buren-based Five Rivers Distribution and a member of the Arkansas Waterways Commission. “Everybody is scrambling right now to keep working through that (supply chain bottlenecks).”
Shell, who has a Van Buren port facility and operates the Port of Fort Smith, said steel products and bulk animal feed are the largest items he handles at both ports.
Following are the top five shipment categories by tonnage for the first four months of 2022, with the percentage change from the same period in 2021.
• Sand, gravel, rock: 1.179 million tons (up 40%)
• Chemical fertilizer: 666,739 tons (down 27%)
• Wheat: 381,100 tons (up 29%)
• Iron & steel: 338,300 tons (up 1.2%)
• Soybeans: 281,500 tons (down 34.6%)
Tonnage in 2021 totaled 10.696 million tons, up 4% compared with 2020. Inbound tonnage was up 12%, outbound was down 8% and internal was up 8%. River traffic in recent years has struggled through historic flooding and an economic slowdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. River tonnage in 2019 totaled just 8.48 million tons, down 22% from 2018. But tonnage was up 22% in 2020 to 10.322 million tons
The Arkansas River system is 445 miles long and stretches from the confluence of the Mississippi River to the Port of Catoosa near Tulsa, Okla. The controlled waterway has 18 locks and dams, with 13 in Arkansas and five in Oklahoma. The river also has five ports: Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Fort Smith, Muskogee, Okla., and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma.