It was the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal’s construction last week, Soy Transportation Executive Director Mike Steenhoek was in Panama and witnessed the celebrations firsthand.
Currently the canal is under construction; workers have labored since fall of 2007 and are scrambling toward a completion date late next year.
Steenhoek says the original canal has been well-maintained, but that the locks have not been expanded to accommodate larger ships. The $5.25 billion project will dig two new locks and approach channels: one on the Atlantic side and one on the Pacific side of the canal.
Steenhoek says the U.S. could take lessons from how Panama treats its locks and dams.
“The Panamanians understand the link between infrastructure and and economic development, and sometimes the United States, we only pay attention to transportation infrastructure when there’s a problem, when a bridge collapses, or when there’s just potholes all over the road, we have a hard time maintaining that investment mentality that you need to have and continue to film it so that you’re doing those things to improve our economy and make sure that we have an infrastructure that agriculture needs, that the broader economy needs.”
Steenhoek says agriculture will notice the difference almost immediately after the Panama extension is complete.
“We can only load ships to a 39.5 foot water depth or draft. Once the expansion’s been completed it’ll be able to handle ships that are not only 45 feet in water depth or draft, but 50 feet and so we’ll be able to load these ships heavier, utilizing more of the ships capacity and we think we’ll be able to load a ship with an additional 500,000 bushels of soybeans, which is another $6 to $7 million of value per vessel. Just because of the Panama canal expansion.”