May 17, 2013

Soy Shipped via Containers is Niche Market for Brazilian Exporters

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

At Brazil's most southern port of Rio Grande, exporters this month have started to export some of Brazil's record large soybean crop in containers instead of bulk. Only a very small percentage of Brazil soybeans will be exported in containers, but exporters feel containers will offer a viable alternative for small importers in Asia and Africa. Thus far, only soybeans have been exported in the containers, but exporters at the port are hoping to ship out wheat by October or November and corn by January or February in containers. In addition to those three main grains, soybean meal and rice are also expected to be exported in containers from the Port of Rio Grande.

For exporters, one of the strongest arguments for using containers is that loading operations are not impacted by wet weather. Containers can be loaded 24 hours a day seven days per week regardless of the weather. Bulk grain vessels cannot be loaded during periods of rainy weather. As a result, gain vessel is waiting up to 40 days to load at the Port of Rio Grande whereas container vessels are only waiting seven days to load.

For importers, containers are a viable option for the smaller ports in Asia and Africa that do not have a large amount of bulk handling capacity. Vessels can offload the containers at various ports instead of just one port thus supplying the needs of small importers. The containers can also be used to guarantee the quality of the grain with specific attributes such as food quality soybeans or soybeans with high oil content. These attributes cannot be guaranteed using a bulk grain vessel.

Containers are going to be a niche market for Brazilian exporters and they will never substitute for bulk shipments, but several exporters at the port are anticipating that they will export 10,000 tons of grain per month using containers. At 22 tons per container, it would require approximately 450 containers to export 10,000 tons as compared to a typical grain vessel that could haul 60,000 tons.

Additional cost savings utilizing containers is that they do not have to be returned empty, but instead can back-haul 22 tons of soybeans.