Soybeans play a pivotal role in the Illinois economy. Whole beans, soy oil and soy meal are significant players in state, national and international markets. The economic weight of soybeans transported throughout the state is staggering: in 2023, Illinois farmers produced and transported over 628.3 million bushels of soybeans.
Our state’s intricate transportation network is at the heart of the soybean industry. Trucks, trains and barges serve as the veins connecting Illinois soybeans to the broader market. At the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA), we recognize the importance of infrastructure and recently invested in a study titled, “Transportation Network Evaluation of Soybean and Soy Product Movement.” It provides a clear snapshot of the state’s agricultural transportation infrastructure—how it functions, what’s working and what needs to be improved to maintain the competitive edge of our farmers.
The study unravels the complexities of soybean movement from farm to end user while comprehensively mapping and indexing the transportation network. The study examines how soy products are handled, staged, stored and moved across various modes of transportation. Simultaneously, it identifies opportunities to optimize transportation modes that will create a competitive advantage for Illinois producers in the global market.
By road, rail or river, Illinois soybeans have a competitive edge thanks to the state’s expansive transportation options and our transportation network connectivity. Illinois roads and bridges are at the forefront of the Illinois freight network. They serve as the first point of connection between the farmer and the market. In total, Illinois boasts 145,708 miles of roadway, 26,848 bridges, and 2,185 interstate miles.
Railroads are an efficient and cost-effective way to transport bulk commodities. Illinois is in a unique position because it is the place where eastern and western railways meet. This provides Illinois soy producers with the ability to create a single line of railroad service from origin onto East Coast and West Coast destinations without eneeding to switch rail carriers mid-journey. Illinois maintains 6,986 miles of railway lines, and all six Class 1 railroads operate within the state.
Our expansive and connected waterway system allows soybeans to move from Illinois farms to rivers that connect to ports. Overall, Illinois has 350 public and private terminals, 62 river elevators, 29 locks and 19 public port districts. These key distribution points are located along the 1,118 miles of navigable inland water channels on the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio rivers, which connect the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. This creates unmatched connections between Illinois farmers and soybean consumers across the globe.
Despite our expansive and interconnected transportation infrastructure, there are considerable challenges to ensuring a sustained and highly functioning transportation network for soybeans. A closer look at the recent report titled, “American Society of Civil Engineers 2022 Report Card on the State of Illinois Soybean and Agriculture Infrastructure Assets,” reveals an aging and substandard transportation system with grades including:
• Bridges: C
• Inland Waterways: D
• Ports: C-
• Rail: C+
• Roads: D+
The report reflects the need for significant improvements in key areas of infrastructure. Strain on our transportation network is inevitable with an anticipated 15% to 30% increase in agricultural productivity over the next 20 years. These productivity gains will intensify competition for transportation resources, potentially resulting in systemic stresses and increased delays.
Look ahead to 2050, and you can envision why successfully navigating the future of the ag center transportation system is both challenging and essential. Growth in agricultural productivity will require a robust and efficient infrastructure to handle increased demand. Investments in technology and innovation will be critical to streamline the transportation of soybeans and other agricultural products.
Future infrastructure must prioritize sustainability and account for environmental targets, such as greenhouse gas reductions. Green transportation will be vital in aligning the transportation system with global environmental goals.
Collaboration between public and private sectors will play a pivotal role in shaping ag transportation in 2050. Partnerships that foster innovation, enhance connectivity and ensure the resilience of the infrastructure network will be crucial to sustain Illinois’ competitive advantage in transporting agricultural products.
Soybean transportation is not just a matter of moving crops from one place to another. It’s also about sustaining the economic lifeline of Illinois. ISA’s Ag Transportation Study provides a roadmap for navigating the challenges ahead. It urges stakeholders to invest in infrastructure upgrades, to optimize transportation modes and to prepare for the evolving needs of Illinois farmers. As we look to 2050, the vision for the vision for ag transportation must be one of adaptability, sustainability and resilience, ensuring that Illinois continues to thrive as a powerhouse in agriculture.
Published On: February 13, 2024Categories: Uncategorized

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