Soy Travel

Soybean Transportation Guide: A Soybean’s Journey

It’s almost harvest season, which means soybeans are coming out of the fields. But what happens to them once the farmer is done in the field? Soybeans have their own unique transportation from being harvested from the field to being shipped all over the world. We spoke with Mike Steenhoek, Executive Director of Soy Transportation Coalition, to explain the process of soybean transportation. 

The Soy Transportation Coalition is an organization that is comprised of thirteen state boards, the American Soybean Association, and the United Soybean Board.

The Coalition works to seek reliable, cost-effective transportation systems for both soybean shippers and customers, build and maintain collaborative relationships, ensure the U.S. transportation system has the knowledge and the foundation necessary for long-term success, and make sure the industry understands best practices to ensure profitability and competitiveness.

What is the average length of time it takes to transport the crop from field to consumer?

Farmers may deliver their soybeans via truck to a local elevator, processor, barge, or rail-loading facility, which can be 10 miles, 45 miles, or longer, depending on what region they are located in the country. 

For example, a journey via trainfrom the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest will take approximately five days. A journey via barge from the Midwest to the Mississippi Gulf region will take 2-3 weeks.  An ocean vessel from the Pacific Northwest to Asia will take 15-18 days.  An ocean vessel from the Mississippi Gulf to Asia will take 30 days.

According to South Dakota Soybean,

“After harvest, 60 percent of the state’s crop is shipped by truck or rail to export terminals primarily in the Pacific Northwest or by barge to terminals along the Gulf Coast. With an interstate highway system and direct rail lines to the West Coast, South Dakota farmers can get their crops to overseas terminals quickly and efficiently.

In fact, research from the United Soybean Board has proven that it is both cheaper and faster to ship from the U.S. to China than it is from Brazil to China.”

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What are some of the key transportation and infrastructure issues affecting soybean transportation?

Having quality rural roads and bridges, cost-effective and reliable rail service, well-maintained and improved locks and dams, and well-capitalized ports are some of the key areas of emphasis that would benefit the transportation and infrastructure of the crop’s transportation. 

What impact do transportation issues have on soybean farmers and their profitability and competitiveness?

It’s not enough to just grow a crop or have demand for the group, we need to have cost-effective, reliable transportation that can connect supply and demand.  Without transportation, farmers won’t be profitable.

What effect does soybean transportation have on the US economy?  

Soybeans are a major contributor to the U.S. economy and often the #1 agricultural export, playing a significant role in the U.S. economy.

What are some obstacles to efficiently/effectively transporting soybeans and what external factors can affect the process of transporting from field to consumer?

Some of the obstacles that we face are that much of our infrastructure needs to be enhanced, and funding can often be limited. There are also challenges amongst the modes of transportation and weather-related events (hurricanes in the Gulf, for example) that can play a factor in efficiency.

What impact does insufficient transportation have on U.S. agriculture?

Farmers won’t be profitable without cost-effective, reliable transportation.

What are some of the top destinations for soybean exports?

1.) China

2.) Mexico

3.) Egypt

4.) the Netherlands

5.) Japan

6.) Indonesia

How would new soybean-crushing plants impact farmers and businesses in the future?

There would be a greater opportunity to export more soybean meal and meat if new soybean crushing plants are implemented throughout the country. 

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What changes have you seen in the way soybeans are transported over the last 5,10,15 years?

Throughout the last 5-10 years there has been an increased focus on containerized shipping.

As the soy industry continues to grow around the world, it is important to know how U.S. soybeans impact global markets as well as how our local farmers are integrated into world markets. To learn more about the transportation of soybeans and the process of South Dakota soy across the globe, read Why Buyers Want Soybeans from South Dakota and Trade Group Mission | How Soy Impacts the World by Hungry for Truth.