The Issue
Shipping soybeans and soybean meal to Europe in what would otherwise be empty containers from East Coast ports in the United States may present U.S. soybean farmers with another opportunity to export their crop and increase competitiveness.

Why It Matters
Ocean freight containers bringing products into some U.S. ports return to their European Union (EU) origins empty. Filling these empty containers with soybeans or soybean meal for the backhaul trip to European markets could mean the potential for additional profit for U.S. soybean farmers and the soybean industry. Containerized soy shipments from the U.S. Midwest via Pacific Northwest ports to Asia have grown into a profitable market by taking advantage of competitive backhaul rates on otherwise-empty westbound containers.

Issue Summary

Checkoff-funded analysis conducted through USB’s Global Opportunities (GO) program examines the potential for shipping containerized soy to Europe. Development of a successful program could open new markets for U.S. soybean farmers and increase the efficiency of trans-Atlantic container ship lines.

Ocean freight cost is the major factor. Freight from a U.S. East Coast port to Europe must cost less than $1,000 per 40-foot container (950 bushels, or 25.5 metric tons of soybean meal) to compete with Argentine meal delivered in bulk cargo ships. U.S. sellers will need to monitor the spread between free-on-board East Coast port soymeal prices and cost/insurance/freight “delivered” European port prices to gauge the potential for container shipping.

The soybean-checkoff-funded study shows three sectors of the soy industry need to come together for successful and beneficial transactions: U.S. exporters, carriers and EU purchasers.

Critical Facts
These three sectors must align to make East Coast containerized trade a profitable opportunity for all. The following are some considerations for each:

U.S. soybean meal exporters:
•    Must reintroduce U.S. soybean meal in the EU market as a superior protein source and gain market share.
•    Must make business connections directly with feed buyers at European broiler and swine integrators.
•    Potential U.S. East Coast ports include Charleston, New York, Norfolk and Savannah.

•    Must keep their fleets moving to stay competitive.
•    Repositioning (getting empty containers back to where they are needed) and balancing equipment are major challenges.
•    Are looking for new, sustainable business, so they should be open to soybean meal. This project educated shipping lines about the volume of EU soy imports and the number of potential new customers in the feed milling industry.

European purchasers:
•    EU feed millers rely on traders and crushers to acquire soybean meal.
•    Millers want to diversify sources and increase quality and protein content — U.S. soybean meal fits this bill.
•    Containerized shipments offer benefits and less risk that would attract small to midsize millers.

Issue Conclusion
Shipping soybean meal in containers to the EU has potential for East Coast ports and U.S. soybean farmers. The market exists, but a successful program depends on bringing together the players involved so informed negotiations can begin.  Soybean-checkoff research continues to build these relationships and outlines a potential game plan. For full study details, click here.

The United Soybean Board’s (USB) Global Opportunities (GO) program publishes the GO Briefing. If you would like permission to redistribute, reprint or repost this information with credit given to the USB/soybean checkoff, please contact USB at