U.S. Soy has a leg up on the competition because of our robust transportation infrastructure – and we can use that advantage to better meet customer needs.
Thanks to a reliable, integrated, multi-modal transportation system, U.S. soybeans and soy products move quickly and efficiently throughout the country and to the rest of the world.
The soybean industry uses a comprehensive network of roads, railways and waterways to efficiently deliver soybeans from fields and elevator storage to domestic customers and U.S. ports.
The system’s key assets are countless people working in supply chain logistics.
These individuals keep all transportation modes working together to get soybeans, grown mostly in the Midwest and Southeast regions of the U.S., to customers throughout the country. They also send soybeans to customers around the world. Global shipping is done via U.S. ports in the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Northwest, both the east and west coasts, and along the Great Lakes.
The industry benefits from the mature, dynamic system designed to react and respond to customer needs and the market.
Roads: Overland Trucking
Farm trucks and semis deliver most soybeans from fields to local storage or shipping locations. More than 6.1 million miles (9.8 million km) of rural roads connect U.S. soybean farmers to rural grain elevators, train terminals and river terminals.1
This segment of the system, which accounts for 70 percent of all U.S. roads, includes:
- 1 million miles (6.6 million km) of local rural roads.1
- 2 million miles (3.2 million km) of high-quality state, arterial and interstate highways.1
- 443,000 bridges.1
About 85 percent of each soybean crop travel by road from elevators to the next stage of their journey.2
Rails: Shuttle Trains
For efficiency, rail shippers load and move shuttle trains of 100 to 120 cars that carry about 11,000 tons (10,000 metric tons) of soybeans as a single unit.3 Several components comprise an efficient bulk-rail shipping system.
- More than 140,000 miles (225,000 km) of train tracks connect to river terminals and ports.4
- North America has a grain car fleet of more than 263,000 hopper cars.5
- More than 1,700 U.S. grain elevators have train-loading capabilities.6
Rivers: Bulk Barge Shipping
Barges cost-effectively cover long distances to reach customers and ports via navigable waterways.
Waterway access reaches roughly 70 percent of U.S. soybean production areas3 with a comprehensive network made up of:
- 25,000 miles (40,200 km) of navigable rivers and channels.7
- 236 lock chambers at 191 lock and dam sites that keep river channels deep enough for barges.7
- A fleet of nearly 2,000 tow boats and 11,000 covered barges.3
- More than 250 river elevator terminals that load barges.8
With such an extensive physical infrastructure system, planning throughout the shipping process – especially at transition points and ports – serves customers well.
For example, logistics ensures needed soybean supplies at modern export terminals to load up to 55,000 tons (50,000 metric tons) of soybeans onto ocean vessels in a day, while minimizing port crowding and delays.3 Such efficiency exists throughout the system, reducing time and costs for customers.
Together, this comprehensive, integrated system delivers an edge to U.S. soybean customers, who can depend on receiving soybeans when and where needed.
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1 Bureau of Transportation Statistics National Transportation Statistics, U.S. Department of Transportation.
2 Farm to Market, A Soybean’s Journey from Field to Consumer, Informa Economics.
3 Transporting U.S. Soybeans to Export Markets, International Buyer’s Guide, U.S. Soy Export Council.
4 Freight Rail Today, U.S. Federal Railroad Administration.
5 Railroads and Grain, Association of American Railroads.
6 Total listed U.S. shuttle loading locations from the seven Class 1 railroad companies in North America.
7 Navigation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
8 Grain Facilities in the U.S. Specializing in Originating Grain for Export and Soybean Processing Plants, John W. Sharp, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.