#SoyOnTheGo: The Slow-Down: Bridges, Locks & Dams

Nov 24, 2021

By Dave Walton •  ASA Director 

Infrastructure isn’t something we think about until it impacts us either positively or negatively. Harvest has wrapped up, and each year we spend a little time in the office picking over what went well and what we could do better. The discussion usually centers around how we moved grain out of fields, in what order, or loading and unloading bins. Normally we discuss things like, “Well, if we filled the east bin first, we could have finished the Arp farm, but we didn’t, and it cost us a half day.”

This year we spent more time talking about bridge limits than anything else. You see, we have a number of bridges around us that have had weight limits lowered over the past few years. Those bridges impact the routes we can take to and from certain farms with loaded semis. In one case, it forces us to take a dirt road to avoid a bridge on a gravel road that is the only route to and from the farm. The bridge has a 20-ton limit. We cannot go over it with more than a few hundred bushels on the truck—an impractical option.

The fact that we even have to talk about it and the logistics of getting a crop out of the field points to the deficiencies that have been allowed by the governmental agencies in charge of the infrastructure in the area. The recently passed infrastructure bill has provisions in it to correct these deficiencies, but why did it have to get to this point? Let’s hope that, in the future, the funding is more consistently available and the technology of bridge construction will improve so we don’t allow our roads and bridges to get to this point again.

Another issue we talked about is the addition of storage on-farm to limit the number of soybeans we deliver to a river terminal. This year, the terminal struggled to get enough barges to keep the harvest flow going. Could it be Covid—or some other reason? Maybe. Something that would help this issue is the lengthening of locks on the upper Mississippi so barges wouldn’t have to break down the tow, lock through and re-assemble.

By conservative estimates, this process adds 90 minutes for each tow at each lock. It’s not difficult to see that, over the course of navigating even half the locks on the upper Mississippi, it takes days longer to travel this section of river, slowing down the cycle time for barges to get up and down the waterway. Did this issue slow the barges and our delivery of soybeans? I can’t say for sure, but I can say with certainty that speeding up the barge cycle time will reduce freight costs and therefore impact basis levels for soybeans grown by all farmers in the Mississippi River valley.

Let’s hope that the funding in this infrastructure legislation is just the start of the funding it takes to support the roads and bridges, locks and dams that are so vitally important to soybean farmers. It’s our competitive advantage over our overseas competitors.