Soybean checkoff-funded analysis says canal expansion could improve competitiveness


An extensive study coordinated by the United Soybean Board’s (USB) Global Opportunities (GO) program expects a new, larger shipping lane through the Panama Canal to double the area that draws U.S. soy to Mississippi River destinations eventually destined for export through Gulf of Mexico ports.

The soybean checkoff-funded study, conducted by Memphis, Tenn.-based Informa Economics, says the expansion of the Panama Canal, expected to be completed in 2014, “…will eventually alter trade lanes” in the United States and other countries. The in-depth examination, recommended by the checkoff-funded Soy Transportation Coalition (STC), claims a new, larger shipping lane for the nearly 100 year old short-cut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans 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 over 150 miles
•    Increase the total volume of U.S. soybeans and grain moving through the Panama Canal to export markets by 30 percent
•    Result in an approximate 35 cents per bushel savings for elevators within the range of central Gulf of Mexico ports, assuming the ports will dredge to ensure at least a depth of 45 feet to handle larger ships capable of moving through the expanded Panama Canal.

“Much of the talk about the impact of the Panama Canal expansion has been speculation,” says USB Vice Chair Vanessa Kummer, a soybean farmer from Colfax, N.D. “The soybean checkoff initiated this study to assemble credible data and scenarios that will allow U.S. soybean farmers and the rest of the U.S. soy industry to better understand and prepare for what may result from a much larger Panama Canal.”

Kummer, who helped lead a group of U.S. farmers on a USB and STC-sponsored mission to examine the canal expansion firsthand a year-and-a-half ago, notes the study’s confirmation of its importance to U.S. soybean farmers and the rest of the U.S. soy industry.

“This report shows that at present, 44 percent of U.S. soy exports move through the Panama Canal,” says Kummer, who also chairs the USB GO Committee, which funded the study. “But it also points out major transportation infrastructure challenges exist in the United States that could limit anticipated benefits of the canal expansion.”

This year, Kummer and the 68 other U.S. soybean farmers who volunteer to serve on USB made “investment in transportation infrastructure” one of its two priority issues. The organization’s new strategic plan, approved last June, includes a strategic objective that the soybean checkoff helps ensure “…that our industry and customers have…the infrastructure to operate.”

USB is made up of 69 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.