A large portion of Iowa's soybeans are transported by water and in 2011, the Panama Canal authority signed a memorandum of unity (MOU) with the Soy Transportation Coalition. That MOU was just extended. The investment is important to Iowa according to Soy Transportation Coalition Executive Director Mike Steenhoek. He says policy makers need to look beyond railways and into the international market.
"Certainly rail is important but as long as we have this inland waterway system, this maritime highway, that is located in close proximity to the most productive farm ground in the world it's really going to make sense to utilize barge transportation"
The MOU is designed to help promote and raise awareness over the Panama Canal, particularly with lawmakers. Waterways and the canal have big impacts on the United States but those impacts could be negative if there are no investments in local waterway systems.
Steenhoek says, "So you have this expansion project that's going to make ocean transportation for soybeans and other agricultural products more efficient. But that will never really come to fruition if we're not making corresponding investments on our infrastructure."
Reliable shipping is a major factor supporting U.S. exports, which can be pricier in the global market. In Panama the $5.2 billion expansion is set to finish in fall 2015.