Broadening horizons

Published On: February 13, 2024Categories: 2024 Event News

Soy checkoff boards help move Transportation Go!

The state of Ohio boasts various modes of transportation that deliver products to market. With an abundance of routes and its proximity to the Great Lakes, the Buckeye State makes for an ideal location to host the fourth annual Transportation Go! Conference March 12-14 when it docks in the port city of Toledo, Ohio.

Mike Ralph, who’s served on the Ohio Soybean Council (OSC) for six years, said he’s excited to bring Transportation Go! – which is hosted by the Specialty Soya and Grains Alliance – to his home state.

“It’s very important for farmers here in my state to learn more about how we move our products,” said Mike Ralph, a director with OSC, a leading Transportation Go! sponsor. “Transportation Go! is a great event to sponsor and learn more about how to open up new markets, and we’re happy to have it in Ohio this year.”

Ralph attended the 2023 Transportation Go! in Omaha, Neb., where he learned about how to find solutions within the complexities of agriculture logistics and transportation.

“I thought it was very interesting,” Ralph said, “and as someone who represents Ohio in a state with Lake Erie, I think it’s fantastic that it’s coming here this year.”

In Ohio, about 51% of the state’s soybeans are shipped via two Class 1 railroads. Roughly 40% travel by barge and 13% are moved via containers. Soybeans are shipped from Ohio in four directions:

  • North via the Great Lakes through the Toledo port
  • West via bulk and containerized rail
  • South via bulk and containers on the Ohio River
  • East via interstate bulk, containerized truck and containerized rail

With the expansion of soybean crush facilities across the state showing no signs of slowing down, Ralph, a past chair of Ohio Soybean’s demand committee, sees a need to find new markets in the years ahead – and the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System could hold the key.

“One of the biggest things I see, it seems like soybean oil has become the major player for our soybeans,” said Ralph, who farms about 90 minutes southeast of Toledo in Marion County. “It went from, ‘What do we do with this oil?’ to, ‘We can’t get enough.’ Now we need to find more markets for the meal.”

The 2024 Transportation Go! takes place at the Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel. Ralph will be joined by OSC Vice Chair Nathan Eckel, who farms near Toldeo and represents the organization on the Soy Transportation Council.

“I want to see if there’s anything we can do to pump soy checkoff dollars into improving our transportation options – whether it’s rail, trucks or the Great Lakes – to see if there’s any way we can better our opportunity to profit,” Ralph said. “If you don’t have profitability, it’s hard to survive in this industry.”

‘A great eye-opener’

The Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) has supported Transportation Go! since its inception in 2020, when the seminar was held as the Northern Commodity Transportation Conference. Gail Donkers, MSR&PC vice chair and current SSGA board member, attended the first conference in Minneapolis and is looking forward to learning about the latest industry developments.

“I’m looking forward to learning more about, No. 1, what are the transportation options that we have, along with the transportation obstacles?” Donkers said. “I think Transportation Go! is a great event for the Council to team up with our fellow state soybean boards to support.”

In 2023, the Council and SSGA, along with the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board (WSMB), collaborated for a tour of the Port of Halifax. Donkers hopes SSGA continues to lead those critical shipping conversations in Toledo.

“In Minnesota, we’re looking at how we can export our products overseas,” she said. “And SSGA, they’re basically the experts on how to do that right now.”

WSMB is another staunch sponsor of Transportation Go!, serving as the host site in 2022, when the conference was held in Milwaukee. WSMB President Pat Mullooly, who attended the 2022 event, sees tangible value in supporting Transportation Go! and SSGA with soy checkoff resources.

“Transportation Go! is a great eye-opener for me that I can bring back to our board of the events that are going,” Mullooly said. “Transportation Go! broadens our horizon as to what the issues are; it helps guides us with where we put those checkoff dollars.”

Wisconsin exports about 65% of its soybeans. In recent years, WSMB has promoted soy exports via the Port of Milwaukee and the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System.

“There are a lot of containerized goods that go out of the Port of Milwaukee, and those markets are already established,” Mullooly said. “At Transportation Go!, we can talk to experts there about what the issues are with our containerized shipments for export. It really hits home to show what it takes to get a bushel of beans to its final destination.”

Support for Transportation Go extends beyond Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin’s state soybean boards. The North Dakota Soybean Council, Illinois Soybean Association, South Dakota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, Port of Toledo, U.S. Identity Preserved, Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and more have all pledged to sponsor the event. SSGA also expressed its gratitude to Destination Toledo for assisting in hosting Transportation Go!

Curating a quality conference that delves into the wide world of transportation requires a team effort, SSGA Executive Director Eric Wenberg said.

“We are so fortunate to have buy-in from so many groups across the industry,” Wenberg said. “SSGA and our partners are excited to continue the dialogue, start new discussions and address the latest challenges and opportunities.”

To register for Transportation Go!, visit