After traveling to Brazil several times in the past few years, I can say that its rail system is almost laughable. And even in the best weather, its rural roads have more potholes than a Minnesota highway in February.
Brazil farmers know their rails and roads are dreadful. We know it and the world knows it, too. But with an infrastructure issue like this in the headlights, eventually they'll get it solved.
In the meantime, are we doing enough here at home to make sure our rails and roads don't crumble?
One leap forward that affects you occurred about a year ago when the Soy Transportation Coalition (STC) was established. It's charged with trying to eliminate the tie-ups that slow down or raise the cost of shipping soy and soy-based products.
“It's an effort by the producer community to make sure the journey from the farm to the dinner plate is as cost-effective as possible,” says Executive Director Mike Steenhoek, a former staffer with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA).
The organization was started by seven state soybean boards, the American Soybean Association and the United Soybean Board. In addition, the National Grain and Feed Association and the National Oilseed Processors Association serve as ex-officio members on the board.
“Costs are rising because railroad and waterway infrastructure is not keeping pace with demand,” Steenhoek says. “For example, the Mississippi River's pressed lock-and-dam system is pushing overflow grain onto already crowded railroads. To handle the demand, railroads are requiring some customers to lease or buy their own rail cars. These problems can raise the cost of transporting crops.”
Because even small transportation cost increases can cut into the prices farmers receive, STC, based in Urbandale, IA, works to eliminate some of the transportation choke points and bottlenecks.
Since Steenhoek worked in the Senate, he points out that often advocates for passenger transportation have a louder voice in Congress. That's why he believes this new organization, which represents farmers, can be another voice that explains to legislators why freight infrastructure is so important.
Infrastructure probably sounds as dull as estate planning. Still, it's the core of transportation issues. Support STC and its initiatives. To find out more, check out their Web site at www.soytransportation.org.