Shipping conditions on the lower Mississippi River were returning to normal due to increased rainfall and improved water levels, FreightWaves reported.

Measured at the key point of Memphis, Tennessee, water levels had made a dramatic improvement at the time of the 6 December report following several weeks of more gradual increases leading to an easing of restrictions on barge shipping.

At one point in October, the US Coast Guard had said that a closure near Memphis had led to a backup of 51 vessels and 710 barges trying to head south but, at the time of the report, authorities told FreightWaves in an email that there were no back-ups at Memphis.

“It’s definitely a lot better,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, whose members use the Mississippi to move soyabeans to Gulf Coast ports for export.

In the key Memphis area, Steenhoek said barge companies had been telling his organisation that a lot of the restrictions had abated.

“They’re able to load heavier but not quite up to normal,” he was quoted as saying.

Despite improvements in the Memphis area, movement had not returned to normal as water levels on the Mississippi River between St Louis and Cairo, Illinois, were still seen as a problem, the report said.

That traffic in that section remained more restricted, Steenhoek said, although traffic north of St Louis was now closed for the season.