Eriksen and his team found several major obstacles to reaching ISA's 600-million-bushel goal:
•Conditions of existing roads and bridges are worsening, and the percentage of those that are deficient or obsolete is increasing. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave Illinois infrastructure a "D+" rating.
•The current backlog of lock and dam repairs and emergency repairs totals approximately $560 million, and existing roads and rails can't handle the increased volume should a waterway be suddenly closed.
•Weight limit and overweight fee structures differ between states. Imposed weight limits create a need for more truck drivers, but finding and training them is challenging. Increasing current weight limits would decrease the need for drivers moving agricultural products by 20% and save $84 million industry-wide per year.
Despite these challenges, Eriksen explains their analysis found that U.S. infrastructure still has potential to be better than that of other countries. For example, a truckload of soybeans in Brazil travels an average of 1,000 miles, compared to 35 miles in the U.S.
The research already has uncovered opportunities to overcome current deficiencies, such as public-private financing options to increase funding for infrastructure update. A similar system is used in Panama. ISA now is developing a recommendation for a private financing plan that would be relevant to infrastructure critical for agriculture product movements.
Illinois Soybean Growers met in March with Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to lobby for a public-private funding option for waterway maintenance. Illinois senators and congressmen subsequently introduced the "Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act," which includes public-private partnerships for lock and dam modernization along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.
"There always are opportunities to get leverage and move projects up on the priority list; it just takes a concerted effort to make contact with local and state officials," says Ron Moore, soybean farmer from Roseville and ISA director. "We are finding ways to capture value and elicit improvements with the research as a guide."
The research also serves as a gateway to an ISA project underway to establish container-on-barge shipping from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. The research found that the rates and travel time via barge to the Gulf are competitive with containers railed to the West Coast.
Source: Illinois Soybean Association