USA: Soybean Farmers Look for Solutions to Improve Waterways

The world wants soy, and U.S. farmers have invested in finding ways to get more of it to export markets quicker, easier and cheaper. Two soy checkoff-funded studies examine the challenges and opportunities related to transportation infrastructure.

Study: “America’s Locks & Dams: A Ticking Time Bomb for Agriculture”

The deteriorating condition of the U.S. lock and dam system puts the competiveness of U.S. soybean farmers at risk according to one soy checkoff-funded study. A transportation infrastructure investment remains a priority issue for soy checkoff farmer-directors.

The study, coordinated by the Soy Transportation Coalition, found that American farmers and consumers “will suffer severe economic distress” if catastrophic U.S. lock or dam failures take place.

Over half of the structures making up the U.S. inland waterway system for river barge shipping exceed their 50-year usable lifespan.

Over one-third surpass 70 years of age, a concern because major rehabilitation is usually necessary to extend the typical lifespan from 50 to 75 years.

U.S. inland waterways represent key infrastructure for transporting U.S. soybeans.

Up to 89 percent of soybeans exported through the lower Mississippi ports, such as the Port of New Orleans, arrive in barges that must transit multiple locks for the trip downstream.

Study: “Panama Canal Expansion: Impact On U.S. Agriculture”

This study coordinated by the United Soybean Board expects a new, larger shipping lane through the Panama Canal to double the area that draws U.S. soy destined for export through Gulf of Mexico ports.

The study says the expansion of the Panama Canal, expected to be completed in 2014, “will eventually alter trade lanes” in the United States. The study claims the new shipping lane for the canal will:

Expand the average area that draws U.S. soy and grain to the Mississippi River for barge transit to central Gulf of Mexico ports from 70 miles to more than 150 miles.

Increase the total volume of U.S. soybeans and grain moving through the canal by 30 percent.

Result in approximately 35 cents per bushel savings for elevators within the range of central Gulf of Mexico ports, assuming proper dredging to ensure at least a depth of 45 feet to handle larger ships passing through the expanded canal.

The 69 farmer-directors of USB oversee the investments of the soy checkoff to maximize profit opportunities for all U.S. soybean farmers. These volunteers invest and leverage checkoff funds to increase the value of U.S. soy meal and oil, to ensure U.S. soybean farmers and their customers have the freedom and infrastructure to operate, and to meet the needs of U.S. soy’s customers.

As stipulated in the federal Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soy checkoff.

Dredging Today Staff, April 19, 2012;