A no-frills concrete bridge on the edge of Stockland, Illinois, represents just the kind of headache the nation's soybean farmers hope a multimillion-dollar campaign and a little creative thinking will cure.
The 50-feet concrete span and hundreds like it in soybean-growing states can't handle the weight of fully loaded grain trucks that'll be bringing an expected record harvest to grain elevators this fall. That means those who use the often small, obscure bridges will have to make more trips and spend more money.
Hauling soybeans to Stockland Grain Co. from the west means crossing the Stockland bridge. It's restricted to 29 tons or 58,000 pounds; a fully loaded grain trucks weighs 80,000 pounds.
"Basically, it's probably doubling the freight (cost)," Stockland Grain owner Sonny Metzinger said from his business about 100 miles south of Chicago.
Since farmers' profits are dropping this year alongside crop prices, bridge-infrastructure needs have come into sharper focus. Most soybeans wind up on a rail car or barge to reach their ultimate destination, but just about all of them leave the farm in trucks that roll over small bridges.
"This matters a lot all of the sudden," said Scott Irwin, a professor of agricultural marketing at the University of Illinois.
Soybeans are one of the country's largest and most valuable crops—$41.8 billion in 2013—and are grown in about 30 states for animal feed, food additives and other uses. That money is of particular importance in rural counties in states such as Iowa and Illinois, the two largest producers. But those counties have small, often dwindling populations and the bridges are lightly used outside of hauling crops to market, which makes them a tough sell to state and local policymakers.