While traveling across the Midwest it is not uncommon to see elevators with mountains of grain on the ground. Have you ever wondered just how many bushels are in these piles? The elevator in the above picture from the first of December still had four piles on the ground, accounting for 1.3 million bushels per pile.
To move this quantity of grain is a major task. It brings to the forefront just how important our transportation and infrastructure is in this country. 2022 has brought many challenges in commodity transportation with the low river levels, pending rail strikes, and high diesel prices.
Basis varies greatly due to the costs of transportation from the place of production to the end user. All this corn pictured came in on trucks from farmers operations. Each pile would be made up by 1,445 semi-truck loads of 900 bushels each.
The manager of this elevator stated their procedure was to load this grain on 108 grain car trains to ship to the rivers or ports. Each rail car that you see go by holds 4000 bushel of grain and a 108 train car shipment would hold 432,000 bu.
When this grain is delivered to the river system, each barge will carry 58,333 bushels and a fifteen-barge tow would represent 875,000 bushels. As you would expect, the greater the capacity of a transportation system the less expensive it is per bushel to move grain especially over long distances.
The photo below shows a 108-train car being loaded. This process will take about 6 hours. Its destination will be the state of Washington where the cargo will be loaded on a ship for overseas transport.
Supply chain issues are of great importance to all the economy. This is especially true in agriculture. With the lower capacity of the river system this year, we are even more dependent on rail.
If a rail strike ever were to happen this could bring the ag industry and the food supply chain to a grinding halt. The rail system handles about 30% by weight of all US cargo. Such a strike would cost the US economy as much as $2 billion per day.
Any kind of disruption of the supply system, be it either by rail, waterway, or truck affects not only the raw materials leaving a region but also materials coming in. Much of the fertilizer, chemicals, and other inputs needed for agriculture have to be moved from where they are made or brought in from ports to the farm belt.
The transportation system is extremely important to agriculture and consumers alike. When issues like we have had this year arise it makes us mindful of how interconnected transportation and agriculture are.