By the time the summer of 2015 rolls around, a major change in the way cotton and other commodities are shipped from the U.S. to destinations around the world will occur.

That's when the Panama Canal expansion project is expected to reach the end of eight years of construction improvements that will allow the first of thousands of oversize container ships, or post-Panamax vessels, to pass through the new locks of the historic canal as they head to U.S. ports in the Gulf of Mexico and up and down the Atlantic Seaboard.

The grand canal project means that giant container ships will no longer be required to port at U.S. West Coast facilities where cargo must be offloaded onto rail cars or trucks for ground shipment to final U.S. destinations, usually thousands of miles away.

Instead, the big ships can travel through the Panama Canal and head directly to U.S. ports in the South and East, saving countless millions of dollars in ground transportation costs each year.

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For U.S. cotton producers in the South, expanded ports of call like Charleston, Savannah and Miami will offer a better alternative than the current practice of shipping cotton by rail across the country or by smaller ships through the Panama Canal to the West Coast for trans-Pacific shipping. And cotton producers in Texas, the leader in U.S. cotton production, can ship from Gulf ports in Houston and Corpus Christi.

"For cotton producers in the South and parts of the Southwest, this will offer a lower cost, shipping alternative that could boost profits for both producers and ginners," says David Fields, CEO and President of Gulf Compress in Corpus Christi.