Calhoun explains that cost most often impacts the bottom line of the seller or the buyer, meaning lower prices farmers receive for their crops or higher prices paid by consumers. But it’s not just the price shifts that concern Calhoun — it’s the ability of the United States to continue to compete on the global level.

“It’s important for the United States to get our infrastructure up to where we can actually participate on the world stage and be a part of the growth of the world’s exports,” adds Calhoun, who oversees the 1,300 barges that Cargill uses in combination with trucks, rails and ocean-going vessels to move products. “Let’s make sure we don’t get behind.”

Private investment supports rails

When it comes to railway movements, it’s not so much the actual rails that draw concern from ADM’s president of transportation, Scott Fredericksen. It’s the lack of cooperation, which he says hinders market accessibility.

“There are only seven Class I railroads in the United States,” explains Fredericksen. “They need to work with the short-line railroads, stakeholders, local industries and each other to provide fluidity and greater market access.”

In addition to the lack of cooperation, another hurdle is what Fredericksen refers to as “white-paper barriers,” which prohibit some rail lines from carrying certain commodities in specific geographic areas. These barriers and the inability to switch between some lines inhibit competition and, in turn, can lead to an imbalanced market.

Lifting these barriers could help U.S. railways to make the most of their own investments. According to a recent USB-funded study, in 2011 alone Class I railroads spent a total of $23 billion to maintain and improve their infrastructure. These private investments have helped to ease concerns that users of the rails, such as ADM, might have.

Some soy-checkoff studies have suggested that rail traffic could increase if another major mode of transportation, such as the inland waterways, became unavailable. Already railroads heading to the Pacific Northwest, where soy bound for China is exported, are moving 68 percent of soybeans transported by rail.

With exports to China expected to double by 2020/2021, rail carloads of soy could increase by 36 percent. Hopefully U.S. railroads and investments will be able to keep up with this anticipated growth.

“I’m optimistic about what U.S. railroads provide and what they will provide in the future,” adds Fredericksen. “Being as there’s only a few of them left, if there were no barriers and no constraints on market access, we’d all be better off and the United States would grow and the railroads would grow proportionally, too.”

Maintaining the advantage

For generations, the U.S. transportation system has been the one that other countries have looked to as the example of how it’s done. Now, they have begun to look at their own transportation needs and are making investments to expand ports, repair rails and make other improvements.

These improvements and investments are one area where competitors could match and perhaps even eclipse the United States.

“It’s so important that we as soybean farmers continue to talk about how we need our rivers, locks, roads and railways all to function together,” adds Tapp. “Transportation is an important part of U.S. soy’s competitive edge on the world stage.”

The U.S. transportation infrastructure has long been a great advantage for U.S. soybean farmers. The reliability of these pieces has allowed shipments to get out to end users in a timely manner.

But because of the vastness of the United States, farmers need all of the pieces to be competitive and must take advantage of the opportunities of a growing global population and growing global demand for quality soy products.

“We’ve got great seed technology, great farming practices, some of the greatest farmland in the world, but if we don’t have an infrastructure that parallels that, we’re not going to get the full promise of what we could for the country,” says Calhoun.

For additional information from the United Soybean Board, go to http://www.unitedsoybean.org/.

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