How South Carolina’s Inland Port at Dillon is Changing the Game for Farmers

Fitzhugh Bethea III leans against a tractor at his farm in Dillon, South Carolina. The Betheas have farmed in the area for eight generations dating back to the 1700s.

This time of year, Fitzhugh Bethea III spends a lot of time in his truck. There aren’t many people he doesn’t know as he drives from the quiet town of Dillon to his farm. As he passes soybean, wheat, corn and cotton fields, he waves and nods at friends while keeping one eye on the road and the other on the crop conditions.

The Betheas settled in Dillon, South Carolina, in the 1700s. In nearly three centuries, you can say they’ve seen some history. Remnants of the revolutionary war and civil war can be seen as stories of the early revolutionaries and Sherman’s fiery March to the Sea are recounted by the locals.

Fitzhugh Bethea is the eighth generation to farm the ground in South Carolina and his children will be the ninth generation to live there.

These days much of Bethea’s free time is spent remodeling an old farmhouse built in the 1700s. The house isn’t the only renovation happening in the area, though. Farmers are seeing an economical renovation sparked by an inland port built several miles from Bethea’s farm.

The South Carolina Inland Port at Dillon benefits importers and exporters in the eastern Carolinas by providing a more efficient means of moving containers from a ship to an inland location. This is achieved through rail lines that can handle a large container volume while keeping hundreds of trucks off roads linking seaports and inland destinations.

The Dillon port uses CSX rail to and from the market, allowing cargo owners to control costs with maximum flexibility and minimal inland truck miles. This is especially attractive to exporters in the region because it provides a low-cost platform from which empty containers can be sourced and returned loaded for export in the fastest possible turn time.

Although Bethea doesn’t deliver his soybeans directly to the inland port several miles away, he still sees the economic benefits.

A crane lifting a container at the South Carolina Inland Port at Dillon.
A crane lifting a container at the South Carolina Inland Port at Dillon.

“If you include forestry, agriculture is the number one industry in South Carolina,” he says. But unfortunately, on a world stage or a U.S. stage, we’re just a blip on the market. What’s good for soybean farmers in the Midwest is good for soybean farmers in the Southeast.”

Bethea points to the thousands of uses for the soybeans that he grows on his farm as the reason he is still farming. In 2022, South Carolina farmers planted 405,000 acres of soybeans and produced 14,430,000 bushels. The total value of soybeans in South Carolina in 2022 was $213,564,000.

“Anytime there’s a new use developed through the checkoff, it ripples down to all soybean farmers, not just the Southeast, not just the Midwest,” Bethea says. “With margins being so small now on all commodities — wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton and oats — if we can get more consumption or another market for a product that we grow, it’s really gonna help out — a two percent change is a world of difference. Farming today is about the margins, and they just keep getting tighter.”

The economic activity at the inland port is driving business in the area. Local soybean buyers have been using the empty containers from the port of Charleston to ship soybeans back to customers in Southeast Asia. That has helped Bethea and other farmers capitalize on the basis in the area.

“Locally, you get a little better basis in your price, maybe 10 or 15 cents more, just because that inland port is right here,” Bethea says. “Every penny counts in this business. The port has not only improved our standing in the market, but it’s also breathed new life into our local economy.”

Bethea continues to be amazed at the dedication and work being done by his fellow farmer leaders, guiding checkoff funds, and driving innovation for soybean farmers.

“The main thing I noticed is that the people who are in it are very diligent, they are very smart, and they are very pro helping the soybean farmer out as much as they can,” he says.

Every farmer’s contribution to the checkoff is a direct investment in the future of their farm and the soybean industry as a whole. Through its strategic initiatives, the United Soybean Board is equipping farmers to meet today’s challenges and seize tomorrow’s opportunities.

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