More Shipping Challenges for U.S. Commodities

As low water levels have slowed commodities moving down the Mississippi River, the St. Lawrence Seaway presented an alternative for some parts of farm country. The St. Lawrence River connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, says the union that operates the locks between each of the Great Lakes has gone on strike over an impasse in contract negotiations. He says while the seaway doesn’t move a large percentage of U.S. commodities, it is a legitimate alternative for some that’s now shut down.

Steenhoek, “It’s an unwelcome development. Now, I think it’s important to keep a broader perspective that the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway is only responsible for one percent of total U.S. soybean exports. It pales in comparison to the 55 percent that leaves from the Mississippi Gulf or the 25 percent that is launched from the Pacific Northwest.”

He says exporters need as many options as possible for moving commodities overseas. Steenhoek said, “One of the things that we continue to try to convey is that in the midst of a lot of these supply chain challenges – and low water conditions on the Mississippi River is a preeminent example of that – is we need to have as many options B, C and D available. And that’s one of the real big lessons that we’ve learned in the midst of all of these supply chain challenges that we’ve had over the last three years is don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The more you can diversify your supply chain, the more options you have, the better positioned you are to be successful.”

While the St. Lawrence Seaway doesn’t carry a lot of U.S. commodities, he says the system has room for more shipments in the future. Steenhoek says, “We absolutely can. There is capacity for the system. For many international customers, it’s not a very viable option. If you’re destined for the Asian market, it doesn’t make as much sense. But for the European market, for the North African market, which are both important to our industry, it’s a viable option.”