After a slow start to the export season, partly due to disruption from Hurricane Ida, U.S. soy bean inspections ahead of exports have jumped to 1.6 million tonnes in the week ending October 7, according to shipping organization BIMCO. This represents a 90.9% jump from the week before and is the highest level seen since the start of February 2021 which marked the end of the main export season of the 2020/2021 marketing year.

U.S. soy bean exports are heavily concentrated at just a few ports. While two of the biggest soy bean export ports are located on the Pacific coast—Seattle and Colombia-Snake—the biggest one by far is New Orleans. In September last year, 64% of total U.S. seaborne soy bean exports went through New Orleans, explaining why hurricane disruption matters. Hurricane Ida hit the U.S. in late August, but affected the region into September, impacting U.S. soy bean exports.

In the first six weeks of the 2021/2022 marketing year, which started on September 1, inspections of U.S. soy beans are down 64% from the same period in the last season, representing a loss of 6.1 million tonnes, reflecting the slower start to the year. Even with last week’s sudden increase, weekly inspections are still below levels seen at this time last year. The previous marketing year had an exceptionally strong peak export season, but even so, last week was the first time that inspections rose above levels seen at the 2019/2020 season.

Of the 1.6 million tonnes of soy beans inspected in the week ending October 7, 1.2 million tonnes (or 71.2%) are destined for China. So far this season, 1.9 million tonnes of soy beans have been inspected for export to China, a 66% fall from the 5.7 million tonnes inspected in the first six weeks of the previous marketing year. Despite the steep drop, it is encouraging that the majority of the total exports is heading for China. This indicates a pickup in exports and will be heading for the long-haul trip, adding important tonne miles to demand.

“The terminals disrupted by hurricane Ida are returning to full capacity just as the four most important months for U.S. soy bean exporters kick off, as most exports take place between October and January. Although the pace of exports will undoubtedly pick up from here, they are unlikely to match the record high 2020/2021 season, however. Despite this, the mainly mid-sized ships that cater to this trade can expect solid exports this season,” said Peter Sand, BIMCO’s Chief Shipping Analyst.

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