With harvest just around the corner for many, thoughts are turning to getting crops out of the field and onto the roads, rails and rivers that help move U.S. soybeans to end users both here and abroad. But are those modes of transportation ready for harvest?
Railroads: After a rough fall and winter a few years ago, the rail companies seem to have found a better balance between moving products and have also invested in improving and maintaining their assets. In 2014, a majority of companies that work with the railroads reported having favorable experiences, according to a Soy Transportation Coalition (STC) study. A longer harvest season and better weather last year helped the rail companies meet agriculture’s needs during that busy time.
Waterways: With the Waterways Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) being signed into law over a year ago, many are still waiting to see what this will really mean for the inland waterways. In the meantime, record rainfall in areas of the Midwest caused river levels to rise earlier this year, making navigation tricky. As river levels return to normal, hopefully movement of barges will too.
Ports: The expanded Panama Canal is scheduled to open in April 2016. The expansion will bring new efficiencies in moving soybeans – if the U.S. ports are able to accommodate the larger ships that can use it. Many ports in the South have already started to prepare for this through dredging and other improvements.
Bridges/Roads: Surface transportation remains an important part of moving soybeans, a majority of first movements from the farm are made across the roads and bridges. The soy checkoff is working with the STC to conduct studies in several states to more accurately rate bridges. This work has led to several bridges in Iowa being reopened to heavy farm equipment and trucks and a similar study is underway in Indiana and Nebraska.
The movement of U.S. soybeans will depend on many factors, including the size of the crop and the weather during and after harvest. U.S. soybean farmers can only hope that the transportation system will continue to be available and support them when they need it.