Driving down a rural road, admiring the expansive fields of corn and soybeans, I stopped at a rail crossing to wait for what seemed like an endless train of cars filled with grain. My idle mind wondered, where are all those tons of grain headed, where was its final destination? For anyone else, it may just be curiosity. But for me and those who work in my division within USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), it’s our job to answer those questions.
We understand that for stakeholders within the agricultural industry—farmers, grain mill operators, shippers and exporters—the answers are critical. Sound business decisions require knowledge about what is happening with the transportation of agricultural products, both in the domestic and international marketplace.
The past 5 years have seen record agricultural exports, and expanding those market opportunities for American exports is vital to the continued success of our farmers, ranchers, and agricultural businesses. Mexico is one of largest recipients of U.S. agricultural exports, including an average of 22.2 million metric tons (mmt) of U.S. grains, oilseeds, and related products per year from 2008 to 2012. The average annual value of those exports to Mexico is $7.3 billion. This continued trade growth has prompted interest in how these products are transported throughout Mexico.
Until recently, there was no readily-available public data showing the entry points of U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico, modes of transportation, or how product were used at their final destination. That’s why AMS partnered with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Transportation Institute scientists to track U.S. grain, oilseed and related product exports in Mexico. Now agricultural businesses can find a summary of the study on movements of these products in Tracking U.S. Grain, Oilseed and Related Product Exports in Mexico (Summary (.pdf) or Full Report (.pdf).
AMS has been gathering agricultural transportation data for decades. It produces a wide array of publications that are available to everyone on its agricultural transportation website, including Study of Rural Transportation Issues that is currently being updated. The publications include on-going research and analysis allowing researchers, growers, distributors, and exporters to determine trends, calculate projections, and make informed decisions. Much of the data, including prices, deliveries, movements, sales, and freight rates, is available through market reports, such as the weekly Grain Transportation Report issued every Thursday.
Answering the question of how American agricultural products are transported to market is important. AMS provides data on the four major transportation modes– trucking, railroads, barges, and ocean vessels– used to move food from farms to our tables and to ports for export.
That train did finally clear the rail crossing, and I continued on my journey—and so did all those cars full of grain.