ISA gets look at Panama Canal expansion

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Dean Campbell, Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) director from Coulterville, and immediate past chairman of the soybean checkoff-supported Soy Transportation Coalition (STC), got a first-hand look last month at the Panama Canal's expansion project and the chance to evaluate how operational changes will impact U.S. soybean farmers.  Campbell and other soybean industry leaders toured the canal in conjunction with the STC’s annual meeting.

"Seeing and learning about the Panama Canal in person confirmed two things for me; that the U.S. needs to get our internal transportation infrastructure modernized for the future and consider what can be done at our ports to become more efficient and prepared to handle larger volume," says Campbell. "Soybean production is increasingly a global industry. The Panama Canal is a significant link in our global logistics chain that allows U.S. agriculture to remain competitive.”

The Panama Canal was completed in 1914, and serves as an important artery for the U.S. economy. About 42 percent of U.S. grain exports transit the canal, including 550 million bushels of soybeans in 2010 – the largest volume among U.S. agricultural commodities.    

Campbell and colleagues visited the Panama Canal lock chambers and witnessed a number of ocean vessels transit the canal. The group also met with officials from the Panama Canal Authority to discuss the importance of the canal to U.S. agricultural exports and to hear an update on the canal expansion project.  Participants rode on the Panama Canal Railway from its station near the Pacific Ocean to its terminal near the Atlantic Ocean – a fifty mile journey.

STC participants learned that while much investment over the years has been allocated for canal operations and maintenance, the number and size of the lock chambers have remained the same since the canal’s opening.  Many of today's largest ocean vessels exceed the size of the locks, so the Panama Canal Authority is expanding the canal.  Construction of a new set of locks will double the size of ships able to transit the canal. The project is scheduled for completion in 2014 at a cost of $5.2 billion.

"Panama Canal expansion will be good for the U.S. and our shipping industry in the long run," says Campbell. "I believe we do need to make our internal system more efficient so we are prepared to ship an increasing volume of soybeans and soy product sales in the future."

Maria Sanchez, coordinator of traffic projections for the Panama Canal Authority, told the STC group, "The country of Panama is making a sizable investment to ensure that the Panama Canal remains a pivotal artery for the global logistics chain.  We are hopeful that the United States - the leading user of the Panama Canal - will make necessary investments in their own infrastructure to ensure the canal expansion will be of benefit to the U.S. economy and not a source of congestion. Given the importance of the canal to U.S. agricultural exports, we are encouraged to see soybean farmers become active in this important issue."

The Illinois Soybean Association (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:

The Soy Transportation Coalition was established in 2007 and is comprised of nine state soybean boards, the American Soybean Association and the United Soybean Board.  The goal of the STC is to position the soybean industry to benefit from a transportation system that offers cost effective, reliable and competitive service.