Ag and Transportation Industry Collaborate at ISA Summit

June 17th, 2013

As published by the Illinois Soybean Association

National and international agriculture and transportation industry stakeholders discussed ways to fix transportation infrastructure issues that limit the soybean value chain's profitability at an Illinois soybean checkoff-funded conference June 13 in Joliet, Ill.

"The U.S. economy is poised to move, and we need to meet the challenge of being the single-most reliable supplier of soybeans and grain of any nation in the world," says Bruce Scherr, CEO of Informa Economics Inc., and presenter at the conference.  "It would be a travesty to not be able to meet demands of a growing and aging population."  

Scherr adds that this begins with fixing the things that can be fixed.

"We are focusing on the wrong things.  Instead of debating the farm bill, let's talk about the infrastructure we need to keep up with China, Brazil, India and Argentina," he says.  

The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) hosted the one-day event because the organization has made transportation a main priority to help reach the goal of utilizing 600 million bushels of Illinois soybeans annually by 2020.

"The ISA Board of Directors is focused on finding solutions to transportation issues that hinder profitability.  We are looking into what is feasible, what's not, and helping align industry groups and stakeholders," says Ron Kindred, soybean farmer from Atlanta, Ill., and ISA Marketing Committee chair.  "We are here to help and want to make sure things happen."

A key theme of the day was leveraging current U.S. infrastructure and improving access to each mode of transportation that gets soybeans to end users -- including containerized shipping, which can help meet customer demands for identity-preserved soybeans.  Additional presenters and attendees at the second annual Export Transportation Summit ranged from soybean farmers to buyers and processors, to transportation logistics providers and consultants. 

"Containers are becoming the international preference.  We can deliver what the buyer wants and when without quality deteriorating," says Lynn Clarkson, owner of Clarkson Grain Company.  "And they are willing to pay more for it."

Laying Solutions on the Table 
According to Scott Fredericksen, ADM's president of transportation, the summit was exactly the type of event the value chain needs in order to coordinate individual ideas and make solutions happen together.

Mike Steenhoek of the Soy Transportation Coalition discussed taking the "preserve and maintain" approach to fixing infrastructure, rather than building new systems, and preserving every link in the journey from point A to point B -- that means trucks, railways and waterways.

Bill Dunavant III, of logistics solutions firm Dunavant Enterprises, discussed increasing the visibility of logistics, and "controlling the first and final miles" in the supply chain.

The group also discussed innovative funding options for roads and bridges.  Jim Allen, transportation engineer for the Illinois division of the Federal Highway Administration, shared ways to leverage public-private partnerships to fund more bridge rehabilitation.

"We put lots of ideas on the table and presented real data for attendees to take away and digest," says Scott Sigman, ISA transportation lead.  "It was a successful day of networking and bringing together the players who will help further the Illinois economy and the Illinois soybean farmer."

New Option Ready to Hit the Water 
Currently, ISA is developing a program that moves containers loaded with Illinois soybeans downstream via barge to the Gulf Coast and then the soybeans are shipped to customers abroad.  The program will add another option for marketing and moving Illinois soybeans to end users, which could translate into better local elevator prices.

Chuck Dillerud is an independent researcher and consultant for ISA’s container-on-barge (COB) program, and urged interested parties to get involved now so a pilot program can get on the water soon.

"We are working to secure the capital and equipment, and align transloaders, elevators, river and ocean carriers who will be involved," says Dillerud.  "ISA is very serious about moving soybeans from Illinois out to market by whatever means possible, and leaving no mode unturned," he says. 

The event was held at the Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of St. Francis.  Chicagoland together is one of the top 10 ports in the world, and nearly every transportation mode converges within miles of the campus.  Presentations and more information are available online atwww.summit.ilsoy.org and www.ilsoy.org/isa/transportation/.

The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) represents more than 45,000 soybean farmers in Illinois through the state soybean checkoff and membership efforts.  The checkoff funds market development, soybean production and profitability research, promotion, issues management and analysis, communications and education.  Membership and advocacy efforts support Illinois soybean farmer interests in local areas, Springfield and Washington, D.C.  ISA programs are designed to ensure Illinois soy is the highest quality, most dependable, sustainable and competitive in the global marketplace.  For more information, visit the website www.ilsoy.org.

Read the original article at the Illinois Soybean Association