There are suddenly more exports of soybeans to China in containers. It’s earlier than usual, and more of them. Over several years now, containerized exports of soybeans are rising, but suddenly it’s faster. A Taiwanese source said that “it’s more competitive than bulk” right now. Taiwan seems to be the main purchaser.
There are a few reasons why containers might be better for soybeans. First, you can trace the source much more closely than bulk. For customers who care, this may be a big deal. Second, the quality may be controlled better. In bulk vessels the beans are mixed with other lots, and even when an attempt is made (usually with a tarp or other barrier) to keep beans from two sources separate, some may escape the barrier. A third reason is ease of off-ship handling in areas where there aren’t good bulk unloading and storage facilities. Many remote regions can handle containers, load right on a truck, and transport inland to a distant point, when it might be difficult with bulk beans. And of course, it is a product that can be loaded for reverse travel for containers, to get them where they will be needed next.
I think in general we would expect bulk beans to be cheaper, because according to the article, the containers hold 20-22 metric tons of beans whereas bulk lots tend to run to 60,000 metric tons. However, it is nice to see that the niche is growing.
Chris Clott and I wrote a paper on this some years ago: Clott, Christopher B., Bruce Hartman, Elizabeth Ogard, and Althea Gatto. (2014). “Container Repositioning and Agricultural Commodities: Shipping Soybeans by Container from US Hinterland to Overseas Markets”. Research in Transportation and Business Management. DOI: 10.1016/j.rtbm.2014.10.006.