U.S. Waterborne Containerized Grain Exports

Over the past two decades, containers have become a normal part of the grain export supply chain. The United States moves less than 10 percent of its total grain exports by container each year. However, containers are crucial for identity-preserved grain markets, customers with smaller volume demands, and other niche markets that bulk volumes cannot serve. To accommodate a diverse customer base, some U.S. grain exporters use both container and bulk modes of transport. The graph below presents monthly containerized grain exports over the past three years; use the filter option to view trends for specific grain commodities.

Top Containerized Grain Products

The pie chart presents an annual view of the top grain and oilseed products moved in containers. If you click on a section of the chart, it will present the top destination countries for the containerized grain product selected. Additionally, use the filter options to select the year and month of choice. 
Over the past several years the top containerized grain product has shifted between soybeans and distillers' dried grains with solubles (DDGS). 

Export Port Regions and Destination Countries

Containerized grain exporters use the Los Angeles and Long Beach port complex approximately 50 percent of the time, making this the busiest container port region in the country. This port region is advantageous to shippers because it typically has access to the widest range of ocean container freight services, the most vessel capacity, and often the lowest ocean freight rates from ocean container carriers. Additionally, regular rail service from Chicago and other mid-western locations makes Los Angeles and Long Beach significant partners for containerized grain exporters. 
The graph to the right provides the share of U.S. ports moving containerized grain exports. If you click on a section of the chart, it will present the containerized grain products moved through the port selected. Additionally, you can select one of the commodities presented to see the top destination countries for the product and port selected. 
Over 90 percent of U.S. containerized grain is shipped to Asian markets such as Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Korea. The chart below presents the top 12 destination markets for U.S. containerized grain exports. Use the filter function to view a particular year or month. Additionally, clicking a section of the chart will show the top grain products exported to that country. 

Container Freight Rates

The majority of agricultural exporters use annual service contracts either directly with an international ocean carrier or through a freight forwarder. These contracts provide a relatively stable rate structure that protects shippers from sharp market rate fluctuations, but these contracted rates are confidential. However, exporters also use the spot market to take advantage of short term rate reductions for certain trade lanes or to supplement the contracted capacity. Private consulting firms collect spot rates for most of the major trade routes. These spot rates provide an overall trend of container rates, but they do not show the specific fluctuations or impacts on individual commodities or commodity groups. The graphics below provide spot rates on the U.S. to Shanghai, China, trade route.