Missouri Soybean Team Visits the Panama Canal

Missouri soybean farmer Tim Gottman discusses the Panama Canal as a fully-loaded Panamax ship enters the lock behind him.
Missouri soybean farmer Tim Gottman discusses the Panama Canal as a fully-loaded Panamax ship enters the lock behind him.

Missouri Soybean farmers and staff had the opportunity to visit the Panama Canal in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Soy Transportation Coalition. The canal, which serves as one of the most consequential links in the agricultural logistics chain, was an outstanding setting for organization’s annual business meeting and election of officers.

Missouri’s delegation of six contributed to the approximately 100 U.S. soybean farmers and staff members of soybean organizations who participated in the trip, which including touring the Panama Canal and receiving an update on the canal’s expansion from officials from the Panama Canal Authority.

While in Panama, the group toured the current canal locks on both the Atlantic and Pacific side of the country.  In addition, participants were able to view the new expanded canal locks that are scheduled to be open for use in April of 2016.

“It is incumbent upon farmers to not only be knowledgeable of and passionate about the supply and demand side of their industry.  Farmers must also be knowledgeable of and passionate about the transportation system that allows supply to connect with demand,” explains Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.  “The Panama Canal – both the current and future expanded canal – is an important artery that allows the U.S. soybean industry to be so competitive in the international marketplace.  Farmers need to understand this key link in our logistics chain, which will hopefully serve to increase our resolve and motivation to demand that our nation appropriately invests in our own transportation system.  If we fail to make these investments in our ports, inland waterways, railroads, and roads and bridges, the expanded Panama Canal will truly be a missed opportunity.”

Approximately 600 million bushels of U.S. soybeans annually transit the Panama Canal – the number one U.S. agricultural commodity utilizing the canal.  Recent analysis – funded by the soybean checkoff – examined the impact of the Panama Canal expansion on U.S. agriculture. The analysis highlighted that one of the immediate beneficiaries of the expansion will be bulk commodities, like agricultural products.

Sizable areas of the country could experience greater access to the efficiencies of barge transportation subsequent to the Panama Canal expansion. According to the research, the draw area to the nation’s major navigable waterways could expand from 70 miles to 161 miles. As a result, there will be increased areas of the country that will be able to avail themselves of the inland waterway system.  The demand for barge loading facilities along the country’s major rivers will likely increase.  The 111 mile line would be the expanded draw area from loading a “Panamax” vessel to a 45 foot draft in Southern Louisiana.  The 161 mile line denotes loading a small “Capesize” vessel to a 45 foot draft.

During the annual meeting, Scott Gauslow of Colfax, North Dakota, was reelected chairman of the STC.  Gauslow grows soybeans and corn on his farm with his wife, Jessica, and their three children.  He has been a board member of the Soy Transportation Coalition since the organization’s inception in 2007 and served as the STC vice chairman in 2013-2014.  Gauslow recently served as chairman of the North Dakota Soybean Council.

Gerry Hayden of Calhoun, Kentucky, was reelected vice chairman.  Serving as the STC secretary-treasurer from 2013-2014, Gerry and his wife, Judy, raise cattle and grow soybeans, corn, wheat, and hay.  Gerry and Judy have two children and three grandchildren.  A past chairman of the Kentucky Soybean Association, Hayden currently serves on the board of directors of the American Soybean Association.

Mike Bellar of Howard, Kansas, was reelected secretary-treasurer.  Mike and his wife, Peggy, have five kids and raise soybeans, corn, wheat, and swine.  Mike is also a director on the Kansas Soybean Commission.

Established in 2007, the Soy Transportation Coalition is comprised of thirteen state soybean boards, the American Soybean Association, and the United Soybean Board.  The goal of the organization is to position the soybean industry to benefit from a transportation system that delivers cost effective, reliable, and competitive service. To access the Panama Canal report or to learn more about the STC, visit its web site at www.soytransportation.org.