Farmers across Illinois predict a record harvest, and soon soybeans will leave Illinois fields en route to customers around the world. Access to multiple modes of transportation provides a competitive advantage to Illinois farmers, but aging infrastructure poses a unique challenge to transportation. With 42 percent of the soybeans grown in the U.S. exported to other countries, transportation is key for the industry’s success.
The focus on infrastructure is especially significant in a year Illinois is posed to produce record soybean production. “The soybean crop looks better than average,” says Paul Rasmussen, Genoa, Ill. soybean farmer and Illinois Soybean Growers (ISG) director. “In an average year, 5.7 million tons of soybeans are transported. In central Illinois we’re looking at one of the best crops we’ve ever had.”
From field to global market, Rasmussen says an infrastructure of roads, bridges and waterways keeps soybeans moving smoothly. Soybeans leave the farm by truck and are delivered to a local elevator where they are loaded onto train cars or barges. In Illinois, about 54 percent of soybeans are destined for export while half are processed domestically and transported by rail.
Infrastructure Critical Across Supply Chain
Elevators and other merchandisers need to coordinate efforts to prepare for the incoming wall of soybeans. “While the potential bumper crop presents many opportunities, it also will require skillful logistical management by our Champaign facility team,” says Brian Stark, regional sales manager, The Andersons, Inc. “The combination of patience and good communication between elevator personnel and farmers will ensure harvest runs smoothly for everyone.”
Kelly Buchanan, Marketing and Communications Manager at top grain shipper Consolidated Grain and Barge Co. (“CGB”), explains, “All areas of the transportation systems, including rail, truck and barge, are going to be stretched tight during the harvest period. Many of our elevators are preparing temporary space in ground storage to help handle the large harvest; these piles will help us cope with the tight transportation outlook and help ensure our elevators are open for business during the harvest season.”
ISG Leads Transportation Improvement Charge
As crop yields grow and trade patterns change, ISG continues to work with business, government and industry leaders to find transportation solutions that efficiently move soybeans from farm gate to customer. A 2011 checkoff-funded study found that every dollar invested in infrastructure repairs provides an average return on investment of $10.24. Those repairs could bring much needed physical and financial support to Illinois’s multi-million dollar soybean industry.
“ISG is a voice for soybean farmers, leading infrastructure conversations at the local, state and national levels,” says Rasmussen. For example, ISG is developing a public-private partnership pilot program (P5) to provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with resources to bring locks and dams up to standard. ISG also is identifying roads and bridges in greatest need of repair.
To learn more about how ISG is monitoring transportation issues, click here.