WSMB finds a new pathway by joining Soy Transportation Coalition

Categories: WSMB, WSPPublished On: January 4, 20243.3 min read

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Soybeans can’t fly.

Shocking, right? While it might be more convenient if soybeans could fly themselves to their final destination, soybean growers rely on other transportation methods to get their product to market – like road, rail and shipping.

“Transportation is key to every soybean grower and every soybean bushel,” Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board (WSMB) President Patrick Mullooly said.

As the newest member of the Soy Transportation Coalition (STC), WSMB is investing Wisconsin soybean checkoff dollars in STC, joining local, regional and national efforts to improve the soybean transportation system. STC’s goal is to “position soybean industry stakeholders to benefit from a transportation system that delivers cost effective, reliable and competitive service.”

“The STC is focused on the transportation and logistical issues of all of the elements that are involved in making sure our soybeans can move freely towards international exports and even domestic uses,” WSMB Vice President Andy Bensend said. “It’s looking for any and all impediments in the movement of our U.S. soybeans to our buyers and working, with the support of its members, to resolve them.”

Established in 2007, the 14-state soybean checkoff board members that comprise STC encompass 85% of total soybean production.

“Because of where Wisconsin is located in the U.S., our export channels are critical to soybean growers,” Bensend said. “Our only options are either down the Mississippi River and out through New Orleans or by rail to the Pacific Northwest. And, more recently, we have been working on developing opportunities to export through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. If any of those channels are compromised, we need to make sure that we have other ways of getting soybeans to market. STC helps with all those issues.”

Before the holiday season ramped up, Bensend spent a few days in December visiting Panama City, Panama, for STC’s annual meeting.

“I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to go and learn while representing Wisconsin soybean growers,” Bensend said. “It was a great experience to establish more contacts with fellow soybean producers and transportation industry experts.”

While there, Bensend got a firsthand look at the inner workings of the Panama Canal, through which approximately 600 million bushels of U.S. soybeans are transported each year.

“The Panama Canal is extraordinarily important for exports moving through the Mississippi River to Asia,” Bensend said. “For every boat that passes through the canal, the lock system releases 52 million gallons of freshwater that is sourced from a nearby lake. However, the area is currently facing reduced rainfall, similar to our experience this growing season in Wisconsin, which severely impacts the number of boats that can move through the canal.”

Low water levels have reduced the number of ships able to traverse the canal to about 24 per day, while previously roughly 38 ships traveled through the canal daily. Shipping companies routing through the Panama Canal risk waiting several days to get through or paying an exorbitant fee – sometimes millions of dollars – in special auctions to jump the line when the opportunity presents itself.

“It was fascinating to learn and understand the internal workings of the canal,” Bensend said. “We also had very interesting discussions with the Port Authority and learned about their efforts to be more efficient in their water use. They’re working to find ways to continue to operate while using less water.”

Dire water levels in the Panama Canal are just one issue that the soy transportation industry is facing. Now that WSMB has partnered with STC, the organization now has a stronger presence when working through problems.

“Some of our local roads have bridges that need replacement or repair, not to mention ongoing rail issues,” Mullooly said. “And one of the reasons we felt it was a great partnership for WSMB is because of our efforts to renew the Port of Milwaukee and use the St. Lawrence Seaway. All these issues directly affect Wisconsin soybean growers.”