Panama Canal expansion ready for 2016

By Joseph L. Murphy

A U.S. destroyer and grain ship are pulled through the final locks of the Panama Canal. The expansion canal is ready to begin operations in 2016. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

A U.S. destroyer and grain ship are pulled through the final locks of the Panama Canal. The expansion canal is ready to begin operations in 2016. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Information about the Panama Canal expansion took center stage during the Soy Transportation Coalition (STC) meeting in Panama this week. About 100 farmers, state soybean staff members, and others were able to get a briefing from canal officials about the progress of the vital shipping route for U.S. soybean farmers.

Ilya Espinoza De Marotta, the executive vice president of engineering and program administration with the Panama Canal Authority, told the group that April 2016 is still the expected completion date for the new expanded canal channel. The channel will enhance a system of locks that have been in place since 1914.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, told those attending the STC board meeting and the tour of the canal that it is important for farmers to see the canal first-hand.

“Farmers need to be acquainted with, knowledgeable and passionate about, not only the supply side of their business, but demand side as well. They need to be just as passionate about the connectivity between supply and demand,” Steenhoek said. “That’s what transportation is. That linkage or connectivity is the system of roads, bridges, highways, ports, inland waterways, railway systems and includes the Panama Canal.”

He went on to say that 600 million bushels of soybeans travel through the Panama Canal annually, making it the No. 1 U.S. commodity moving through the canal. Grains make up the largest cargo by commodity moving through the canal with petroleum and container cargo rounding out the top three according to numbers released by the Panama Canal Authority.

Those numbers are expected to increase once the canal expansion is completed. Canal officials told the group they expect the total volume of goods transported to double once the expansion project is complete.

“Currently, 70 percent of shipments through the canal either originate or are destined for the U.S.,” De Marotta said.

Ed Ulch, an STC board member and Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) director, also attended the meeting. He agreed with Steenhoek that it’s important for farmers to see the canal.

“This (the Panama Canal) is one link of the transportation chain, and we aren’t going to be able to take advantage of this unless we hold up our end of the bargain, so to speak,” Ulch said. “We need to do the things needed in the Gulf to be able to accommodate the big ships and the larger loads to be more efficient.”

Karey Claghorn, ISA chief operations officer, has visited the canal several times and echoed the importance of the waterway for farmers. During this trip, she was also able to see the importance of the canal when it comes to national security.

“In my opinion, food security is an important part of national security so the canal is critical to move products around the world,” Claghorn said. “But to see the Navy warship move through the canal, we also see the importance the canal plays in getting our military around the world in an efficient way.”

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news