Throughout soybean harvest here in the United States, soybean farmers are making decisions on where to move this year’s crop. Three out of every four bushels harvested will go from the field to either on-farm storage or to the local elevator. The remaining 25 percent go directly to processors or export.
All of these movements require roads, rails and rivers to get the soybeans from the fields to the end-user. The U.S. transportation infrastructure has long provided U.S. soy with a competitive advantage, but if these assets are not maintained and improved, this advantage could soon vanish. Increasing investment in the necessary improvements remains a priority issue for the soy checkoff.
Here’s a look at how your beans are using these modes of transportation.
Roads and Highways
The first move soybeans make are on roads and highways to get them out of the field. According to the soy checkoff’s Farm to Market study, all soybean movements from the field to farm storage and to local elevators are made by driving a truck along local roads and highways. In addition, a majority of soybeans are then trucked down these roads again from the local elevator to a processor or export position.
Rivers, Locks and Dams
Approximately 59 percent of the total soybean exports travel through Mississippi River ports such as the Port of New Orleans. Of those soybeans, 89 percent moved through the locks of the U.S. inland-waterway system. Many of the structures that allow shippers to harness the power of the U.S. rivers were built during the Great Depression. Because of their increasing age, many of these locks have been experiencing more closures, impacting the efficiency of soybean movements.
The railway network, which dates from the late 1800s, has also been under pressure. As more U.S. soybeans continue to make their way to China, the industry has seen an increase in rail movement from the western Soybean Belt to the Pacific Northwest. If China’s demand for U.S. soy continues to grow, railroad use could double by 2020-2021. To meet U.S. agriculture’s growing need for rail movements, the railway industry will need to continue to invest in its infrastructure.