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Minnesota Soybean Business

Down the River: Soy Transportation Coalition works to improve access for soybeans

September-October 2019

Most of the time, soybean producers prefer getting their commodity from the field to the elevator in the most efficient, cost-effective manner. While that may be their immediate focus, the next step in the transportation cycle is just as important.

“When you look at how much of our soybean crop gets exported and if we want to be profitable, we have to have transportation that can provide that avenue,” says Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition (STC). “When so much is consumed, we need to get transportation right.”

Established in 2017, STC was formed by seven state soybean associations and the United Soybean Board (USB) to promote transportation and issues for soybean farmers ranging from roads, bridges, railways, waterways and more.

“STC is the premier transportation group devoted to agriculture,” says Tyler farmer and STC Vice President Joel Schreurs. “Mike has a lot of ties in Washington and able to work with them in a lot of different areas.”

MSGA Director Joel Schreurs is Vice President of the Soy Transportation Coalition.

Steenhoek has served as executive director of STC since its establishment in 2017. Prior to that, he worked for Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley in many roles between his Des Moines, Iowa and Washington, D.C. offices.

“I understood why farmers wanted to elevate this issue of transportation,” says Steenhoek. “With my background in policy, I heard about the long time focus by farmers groups to stimulate supply and increase demand for soybeans, and we also needed to elevate our transportation system in order to do that.”

With continuous growth, STC now includes 13 state organizations, including the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC), which has had a seat on the board since 2012, USB and the American Soybean Association (ASA). In total, STC now has 22 voting directors.

“Together, we need to be involved in four areas,” says Steenhoek. “Defining the transportation problem, articulating how this affects farmer profitability, identify solutions and then implement those solutions. Lots of research goes into defining these problems and identifying their solutions.”

Some major initiatives started by STC include increasing truck weight limits, deepening the lower Mississippi River and testing rural bridges with new, innovative technology.

“Deepening of the Mississippi makes the system more efficient and creates a better basis, even if most of Minnesota’s soybeans go through the Pacific Northwest (PNW),” says Schreurs. “I believe it helps all of agriculture, even outside the soybean industry.”

STC works closely with the Army Corps of Engineers to emphasize the deepening of the lower Mississippi in New Orleans, the number one launching point for soybeans.

“Minnesota soybeans going down the river will provide notable benefit to a narrower basis,” Steenhoek says. “When river transportation is effective and capacity increases to become economical, farmers inside the country benefit.”

While focusing on the Mississippi River, the STC continues promoting the PNW.

“We did research with the University of Minnesota (UMN) on the condition of the rail service in western Minnesota to the PNW,” Steenhoek says. “We found that the rail system had detrimental impact on farmer profits and held the railroads accountable to resolve the solution.”

STC established metrics to monitor the rail service and updated the information every two weeks, making it public information for everyone to see.

“Those initiatives contributed to seeing greater attention on this issue because more people were aware of the problem and are able to stay on top of it in the future,” Steenhoek says. “When we have a significant event like this, our board is able to turn on a dime and be off and running to help the farmer.”

While the board is a national organization, they have state, regional and local focus, working with local county engineers and county commissioners upon request.

“We try to meet farmers where they are at,” Steenhoek says. “We are trying to maximize profitability, not revenue, and we try to help farmers do that in any way we can.”

The bottom line is that STC is trying to connect local supply with worldwide demand.

“Transportation affects agriculture more than any other sector, as everything is related to transportation, especially in rural Minnesota,” says Schreurs, who farms in Tyler in southwest Minnesota. “From the larger picture with the inland waterway systems to local roads and bridges, we use all aspects of the transportation system to get the supplies we need and deliver the products others want.”

With agriculture being the most diverse supply chain of any industry, STC remains focused and attentive on all transportation systems.

“The reason why farmers are international entrepreneurs is because we have a transportation system that can get their products from point A to point B,” says Steenhoek. “If we don’t prioritize these issues, their profitability will diminish. STC wants to continue increasing our competitive advantage and make sure we have a system that allows soybean farmers to be successful today and into the future.”

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