From Bins to Barges, Delivering Soy Around the World

Robb Ewoldt opens a truck bin of soybeans to be transported into a barge.

Last fall, when the bin was empty and the last load delivered, Robb Ewoldt, a farmer from Davenport, Iowa, was relieved, knowing his soybean contracts were fulfilled.

He considers himself lucky. His farm sits about four miles away from the Mississippi River — a connection for the soybeans grown on his farm to markets worldwide.

For several years, Ewoldt has worked to diversify his operation, extending his crop portfolio to include non-GMO soybeans. This approach takes more planning, more work and more management than growing commodity crops alone but he sees benefits to justify the extra work. The non-GMO soybeans Ewoldt grows will primarily be used for food-grade uses like tofu, soy sauce and candy in Asian markets when they reach their destination.

It takes a well-oiled machine for the beans to go from his bins to destinations like Japan. At each step, the crop is carefully transported by trucks, barges, rail cars and ships until it reaches its destination halfway around the world. Recently, important work to keep the export machine performing well has been underway down the Mississippi from Ewoldt’s farm.

A wide-ranging partnership has made dredging the lower Mississippi River a priority to match shipping capacities transported through the Panama Canal — giving more soybeans more opportunity to get where they need to go.

Your soy checkoff was joined by the Soy Transportation Coalition, U.S. Soybean Export Council and American Soybean Association to ensure the most efficient transportation methods are available to maximize profit opportunities for U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff-funded research by STC showed this dredging work would save 13 cents per bushel of freight while increasing the load by 500,000 bushels per ocean vessel and bring an additional $461 million in revenue to U.S. soybean farmers.

International Marketing Team

Tireless work supported by your soy checkoff, in partnership with the U.S. Soybean Export Council, American Soybean Association, and other organizations such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service opens the doors for exports and provides a substantial market for Ewoldt’s high-quality soybeans — both premium and commodity.

Today’s agricultural infrastructure and commodity groups offer a vital support system for farmers. By building trust with buyers across the world and using data to prove the value of U.S. soybean products, the organizations pave the way for strong markets for years to come, and Ewoldt’s beans are a great example.

“A lot of these farmers out here don’t realize what those entities are doing for us and it’s huge,” says Ewoldt. “It’s huge to know that you have a team like that talking about the Iowa farmer or the American farmer, highlighting our practices and how safe of a product we raise. It means a lot.”

Ewoldt believes the soy checkoff has been a game-changer in helping his farm and other farmers across the country.

“If you look at how far things have come since the checkoff started and what margins have been opened since then, it’s amazing,” he says. “The total amount on the research side that the national checkoff and the Iowa Soybean Association has invested alone is amazing,” he says. “You can also look at the prices and demand and how we have worked through these big crops and know that the checkoff is behind it — it’s all because of that network that is out there pushing our product. I can’t put a value on it, but I know it’s a whole lot.”

The Power of the River

The Mississippi River has provided a competitive advantage for transporting soybeans and other commodities to world markets, including Ewoldt’s beans. During the last marketing year, 61.65 million metric tons of U.S. soybeans left the farm to travel around the world. The soy checkoff, the Soy Transportation Coalition (STC) and state commodity organizations worked together to fund research, planning, analysis and design that helped to inform the launch of the Mississippi River dredging project that provided crucial upgrades, which will ultimately increase the economic advantage the U.S. transportation system provides.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is dredging the lower Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to the Gulf of Mexico. According to a study funded by the STC, deepening this lower Mississippi River draft from 45 to 50 feet will provide increased revenue to soybean farmers, while getting their product to their global customers with increased efficiency.

“Living on the river, it’s obvious that the inland waterways and locks and dams are critical,” Ewoldt says. “Without STC and the checkoff, I don’t think the river is being dredged, and I don’t think these major projects are getting done without some research and funding from these organizations.”

As Ewoldt considers the 2022 growing season, he is thankful he has the Mississippi River, a maritime superhighway that connects his farm to international ports.

“You think of all the things you go through to grow that crop,” Ewoldt says. “Weed pressure, drought —there’s a lot of things that you can’t control. It takes a heck of a team, and I’m thankful I have agronomists, farm help and organizations that have my back.”

Learn more about the soy checkoff’s investments in infrastructure, and check out The Soy Hopper for more supply chain content.

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