The Illinois Soybean Association sponsored a rare opportunity for JCDC to participate in a tour of four grain shipping facilities in northern Illinois along with a tour of the Port of Los Angeles on June 14-15, 2017. A group of about 25 toured the Illinois facilities, with a group of about 10 traveling to Los Angeles.
We began by visiting Maplehurst Farms in Rochelle, a 2000 acre farming operation that also serves a five-county area for grain storage. They ship directly to barge facilities or into containers for transloading to rail off-site. Next came a visit
to the Consolidated Grain & Barge operation, also in Rochelle. This was followed by a visit to the Starved Rock Lock & Dam facility and we finished day one with a tour of the Port of Joliet, serving the BNSF rail line.
On day two, we toured the Port of Los Angeles, which began with a PowerPoint presentation by the Port Authority. Our next stop was the Los Angeles Harbor Grain Terminal, where we saw how various agricultural products are transloaded from railcar to truckbed or vice-versa. After that, the team visited the Pacific Harbor Short Line Railroad, which provides what they refer to as the “valet service” for freight on the BNSF and Union Pacific railroads coming into and out of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Aside from making a number of excellent contacts willing to help with questions we have related to freight and logistics, I arrived at a number of observations about opportunities either for Jefferson County or the State of Illinois;
- Whenever Intermodal Shipping Containers, referred to as ISO containers, come into town and are unloaded at a major facility, any empty container sent back away represents a lost opportunity. Jefferson County has agriculturalproducts, scrap metal, scrap paper and cardboard, and even timber, which may represent an opportunity for“backhauling”. A lot of this potential is contingent on market value of different
commodities. Whether it is sent back on a truck bed or rail car also depends on quantity, price and destination.
- There is a shipping container shortage currently, and oftencontainers do not pass inspections. As a result, repairand cleaning of containers might be a revenue generator. The challenge lies with the desire to rapidly deploy containers for more hauling. The value of a container depends onhow many times it travels back and forth, usually between international destinations, in a year.
- Oilseed crushing plants become destinations for soybean hauling. The end product, soybean oil and the meal left over, are both marketableproducts. Soybean meal is used for animal feed stock. A crushing plant can be built on as few as 20 acres and the rail access Mt. Vernon offers may be ideal. The key challenge lies in the high cost of building a plant of this
nature. Attracting a refinery operation would be the key. I asked the Illinois Soybean Association representative about this opportunity and they are looking into it for us.
- As we continue to evolve rail-based business, safety is of the utmost concern. There are 10″ of slack between every rail car. So as a 100-car train is stopped, the last car will continue to move almost 83 feet. A “stopped” train is a relative term.
This trip was an eye-opening experience. I learned a great deal about grain inspection, the economics involved in shipping choices, the current state of the intermodal industry, and how automation is changing the speed in which we can accomplish a loading or unloading process. Anyone interested in the PowerPoint presentation from the Port of Los Angeles is welcome to contact me for more information.