Arkansas River commercial tonnage up 2.7% through November

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 790 views 

Commercial tonnage shipped on the Arkansas River through November totaled 10.124 million tons, up 2.7%, with outbound and internal shipments driving the growth, according to figures from the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

November tonnage of 957,397 tons was essentially flat compared with 956,259 in November 2021.

Inbound shipments – those coming from off the river system – totaled 3.163 million tons during the first 11 months, down 13.2% compared with the same period in 2021. Outbound shipments totaled 3.616 million tons, up 17.3% compared with the same period in 2021. Internal shipments – those sent between port operations on the river – totaled 3.344 million tons, up 7% compared with the same period in 2021.

Marty Shell, president of Van Buren-based Five Rivers Distribution and a member of the Arkansas Waterways Commission, said 2022 has been a good year, but is not sure that will continue in 2023.

“2022 was a strong steady year for both the Port of Fort Smith and Port of Van Buren. I’m afraid that the inflationary times are catching up with us. I’m seeing customers using up the inventory they have and are slow to react to 2023 tonnage commitments due to interest rates and the unknown. I would predict the first half of 2023 will be slow to average and hopefully a stronger second half in 2023,” said Shell, who has a Van Buren port facility and operates the port of Fort Smith.

Bryan Day, executive director of the Port of Little Rock, said port operations there are down because of low water levels on the Mississippi River.

“November’s activity across the Port of Little Rock’s decreased due to low water on the Mississippi that impacted the ability to receive barges for about a two-week span. The rains have come and we are now catching up on those barges in questions,” he said.

Day said the port year-to-date has handled 385 barges, carrying more than 577,000 tons, which is up 22%.

Following are the top five shipment categories by tonnage for the first 11 months of 2022, with the percentage change from the same period in 2021.
• Sand, gravel, rock: 3.68 million tons (up 6%)
• Chemical fertilizer: 1.877 million tons (down 4%)
• Iron & steel: 1.084 million tons (up 13%)
• Wheat: 906,400 tons (down 8.5%)
• Soybeans: 756,450 tons (down 4.5%)

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 commercial ports: Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Fort Smith, Muskogee, Okla., and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma.