A conversation with David Blankenship, with the Ohio Soybean Council, who was on a recent trade mission to Panama.
OCJ: First, what was the purpose for your recent trip to Panama?
David: I recently took a trip to Panama representing the Ohio Soybean Council to see firsthand and learn more about projects that the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean checkoff helps fund in partnership with USSEC.
OCJ: What were some of the highlights from the trip?
David: Seeing the Panama Canal first hand and watching the efficiency of the operation was amazing for a canal that transits such large volume. It is not only important to the Panama economy but it is also very important to U.S. soybean farmers and Ohio soybean farmers. The Panama Canal allows for easy transit of U.S. grown soybeans to be shipped over 144 commercial maritime routes worldwide.
OCJ: What is the status of the new expansion of the Panama Canal?
David: The expansion will add a third lane of transit to the canal to double its capacity by the year 2014. The new canal locks are 40% longer and 60% wider, supplemented by a system of water-saving basins. These water-saving basins recycle and reuse the water instead of constantly taking it out of the canal to raise and lower ships.
OCJ: How does this change the logistics of world transportation?
David: This has huge logistical changes to world transportation, as very large fuel consuming vessels will now be able to transit the canal instead of traveling all the way around South America. It will also allow for the reduction in cost of certain goods.
OCJ: What opportunities does the improved canal present for the U.S. soybean industry?
David: Soybeans and soybean products were the No. 1 US export commodity last year. The U.S. exported a record-setting $23 billion in soybeans, soybean oil and soybean meal, which accounts for one fifth of all U.S. agriculture exports and almost 50% of U.S. soybean production. Here in Ohio, we export more than 50% of the soybeans grown in the state, and the majority of those soybeans travel through the Panama Canal.
OCJ: What challenges does the improved canal present for the U.S. soybean industry?
David: The Panama Canal expansion provides an opportunity for the US to improve its international competitiveness and position us in global markets. The improved canal also positions other countries such as Argentina and Brazil to bring bigger shipments of soybeans north to countries like Costa Rica and Panama.
OCJ: Are Ohio’s soybean growers well positioned to take advantage of the new expanded Canal? Why or why not?
David: Ohio is very well positioned already and with larger container vessels and lower shipping costs, now we just need to grow more soybeans. Ohio shippers could increase exports of containers through east ports as a result of the expansion. International markets are becoming widely progressive in soy oil market and as more countries develop animal agriculture markets they will turn to the US for soybeans that are very consistent in amino acids and crude protein.
OCJ: What is the perception of U.S. soy production and agriculture in Panama?
David: While in Panama, I had a chance to visit and tour several of the largest agriculture companies. They each had the American flag flying in anticipation for our arrival. They have very high respect for our farmers, and have learned invaluable knowledge through projects that are funded by USSEC and OSC. Panamanian agriculture companies trust the American grown soybean and prize its consistency.