Study determines failing bridges cost Illinois farmers more than time

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

A new study partially funded by the Illinois Soybean Checkoff and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board (ICMB) shows that state growers could lose 5 cents per bushel for each load of grain detoured around a closed or obsolete bridge.

The study—Illinois Infrastructure Assessment and Economic Impact Relative to Grain Movements, Biofuels, Livestock and Further Food Processing—looked at the potential economic impact of closed or weight-restricted bridges on farmers.

David Niekamp, a farmer from Coatsburg, Ill., and Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) board member, said ISA will use the study’s findings to promote improvements to rural bridges by educating policymakers on the critical role bridges have in rural economies.

“There is quite a bit of concern,” he said. “We have a number of bridges in ill repair. Those can become extremely detrimental, not just to me as a farmer, but to the economy in general. A failing bridge can cut the life line of a small community.”

The study focused on infrastructure in nine Illinois counties—Bureau, DeKalb,

Adams, McLean, Iroquois, Macoupin, Shelby, Clinton and Wayne. According to the report, 475 bridges rated deficient and obsolete in the nine counties, representing 2 percent of all Illinois bridges and 11 percent of all deficient bridges. Overall, 15 percent of Illinois’s bridges are rated deficient and obsolete.

The report states that closed or weight-restricted bridges in the studied counties could lead to as much as a 20-mile detour. With fuel prices near $4 per gallon and labor costs increasing, such a detour could become quite costly for a farmer or the elevator that has to bid higher to attract grain. For a farmer with more than 300 corn acres and 200 soybean acres, the closed bridge would cost him 5 cents per bushel for corn and soybeans. In addition, if the detour extends to a worst-case scenario of 50 miles, it could cost the farmer up to 11 cents per bushel, which translates to more than $6,000 additional costs.

“If a bridge is closed or posted, the detour may not be more than five or 10 miles in most cases. However, time is a big issue in farming, especially during harvest,” said Michael Bruchhaus, consultant with Informa Economics, which conducted the research. “The farmer is trying to get his crop out of the field. There's a limited window there, and time is of the essence.”

Earlier studies have calculated the economic impact of a specific bridge failure or interruption in transportation services—such as the 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, which cost $60 million in lost productivity to Minnesota’s economy—but this most recent study examined the specific costs of crumbling or outdated bridges to the Illinois agriculture industry.

“The temptation is to see detours as just an inconvenience,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition (STC), which is comprised of soybean association boards from ten states, including Illinois, the United Soybean Board and the American Soybean Association. “The study shows there is an economic ripple effect. When farmers have to take a significant detour, there's a cost associated with that.”

The infrastructure study is one of two transportation studies funded in part by Illinois Soybean Checkoff this year. Additionally, the impact of increasing semi-truck weight limits was also studied. The studies are part of the ISA’s efforts to make sure soybeans and other goods move efficiently in and through Illinois.

Scott Sigman, a senior consultant serving as transportation and export infrastructure lead with ISA, said the studies should make policymakers aware of the costs, not only of rebuilding a closed or weight-restricted bridge, but also to local and state economies.

“Agriculture is so all-encompassing,” he said. “Those pinch points (the bridges) could be like the venturi of the hour glass—the narrow spot. If it breaks, nothing is flowing or it all flows out and it's a mess. On the other hand, when it's flowing normally, it's like fluid. The goods go where they need to go.”

ISA is the statewide organization for Illinois soybean growers. The farmers on its board administer soybean checkoff funds to support research, promotions and educational programs designed to increase demand for Illinois soybeans and administer legislation and membership programs. For more information, visit