So when do containers work best for the customer, where and how do they work well for the grower?

The real value is for farmers who are close enough to an active container yard to sell higher-value or IP commodities while spending less on transportation, according to McKenna. The biggest concentration of containers is around the top container ports – Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Francisco. In the heartland, Chicago and Kansas City dominate, and smaller yards are located in Omaha, St. Louis, Memphis, Peoria and Des Moines.

For farmers delivering to a company like DeLong, the process is similar to deliveries at a country elevator. DeLong transloads the crop into containers and delivers them to a rail terminal such as the huge warehousing district in Joliet, IL, where containers are shifted between storage, semi trailers and 110-car unit trains.

From there, containerized grain typically moves by rail to a major container port for export.

The alternative is for a commodity to travel by rail to the export terminal, where it’s then transferred to containers. For example, the Los Angeles Harbor Grain Terminal accepts containers loaded in the Midwest but also handles rail cars of corn, wheat, soybeans and DDGs. Similar logistics handling companies operate in ports like Seattle-Tacoma.

Container shipments, just 1% of all grain shipments in 2003, rose to 5% by 2009, according to estimates by Walter Kemmsies, chief economist for Moffatt & Nichol, then fell back to 3% in 2010.

More recently, containerized shipments of DDGS have fallen because of the Chinese DDGS anti-dumping case, expected to conclude by the year’s end.

If Chinese officials determine that DDGS have been dumped in China's market at prices below what other customers pay and that Chinese interests have been hurt, they could apply import tariffs on U.S. shipments, which have shot from about zero three years ago to more than 1.5 mmt last year. A decision on the case is expected by late December.

High soybean prices have shifted some shipments back into the lower-cost bulk market, according to USDA’s June 23 Grain Transportation Report.

 In the longer term, Dwight Robinson, vice president of the Los Angeles Harbor Grain Terminal, warns of an issue that could undercut the