U.S. soybean farmers depend on transportation as the critical link between their fields and markets here and abroad. Since the early 1990s, U.S. soybean farmers have been responding to world demand for more protein feed for the growing meat and poultry sectors in developing economies, especially China. This report examines transportation implications of the recent trends and outlook for U.S. soybeans. Most U.S. soybeans are grown in the Upper Midwest and the Corn Belt. During the last 10 years, over 40 percent of production was exported on average each year, relying on barge and rail transportation to be shipped to port. Domestic demand by the livestock and poultry sectors is serviced by truck and rail. The United States is losing its world market share to South America which has lower cost of production, increasing the importance of U.S. transportation efficiency to competitiveness. The majority of soybean exports are shipped through the Mississippi Gulf Coast (60 percent of 2013 soybean exports), but when the spread of ocean shipping cost between the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the Pacific Northwest (PNW) exceeds $30, it generally leads to a greater proportion of Asia-bound soybeans being shipped by rail to ports in the PNW. The ocean rate is the main driver for the choice of port for export, because inland barge transportation to the Mississippi Gulf is usually more efficient and less expensive than rail.


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