Quality agriculture may begin in the field, but it continues on the road, the rail, and the water. That’s because the efficient transportation of agricultural products plays an essential role in the success of today’s farmer.
In the United States, a sophisticated network of trains, trucks, barges, and other vessels moves grain for food, feed for livestock, alternative fuels, and other processed ag products across the country and the world. A reliable, efficient delivery system ensures quality, enhances the reputation of the product, and pays economic dividends.
That’s why companies across the country continue to commit substantial resources to improving and expanding their transportation operations. CSX Corporation, for instance, is one of the nation’s leading transportation suppliers. With more than 21,000 miles of track across the eastern United States and Canada, CSX provides rail and freight transport services to major population centers in 23 states. They have access to over 70 ocean, river, and lake port terminals along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, and the St. Lawrence Seaway, and through alliances with western railroads, they also have access to Pacific ports.
Not only is that a big area to cover, it’s big business, too. Tim McNulty, Director of Agricultural Marketing for CSX, estimates the company moves over 39 million tons of grain, grain products, and ethanol each year. That translates into nearly $1 billion in revenue for the company that serves grain elevators, feed mills, grain processing facilities, bakeries, ethanol plants, and soft drink production facilities.
“CSX moves a broad portfolio of products across the country,” says McNulty. “We move whole grains, corn, beans, and wheat, for instance, from elevators in the Midwest to feed hogs, turkeys, and chickens in the Southeast. We move grains to processing plants where they are made into products for human consumption, like flour, oil, corn, and sweeteners. And then we move those, too, to places like bakeries. And since 2003 we’ve been moving grain to ethanol plants and ethanol to consumption markets, which has been a large emerging market for us.”
But it’s not just what they move, but how they move it that makes a difference. “Our goal is to transport products in a way that is safe, efficient, reliable, and cost-effective for long distances,” says McNulty. “Rail has the important added benefit of being environmentally friendly in terms of fuel consumption, too. We estimate that we can move one ton of freight nearly 450 miles on one gallon of fuel.”
ADM, one of the world’s leading agricultural processors, has also created a far-reaching and efficient transportation network, in which they are owner, buyer, and supplier.
The company owns nearly 2,000 barges, 14,300 rail cars, 400 trucks, 1,400 trailers, and 8 ocean-going vessels. They lease an additional 400 barges, 12,600 railcars, and 30 ocean-going vessels. ADM recently built a large new railyard and intermodal terminal as well at their headquarters in Decatur, Illinois. They also act as a third-party logistics provider for other companies who need transportation solutions.
The company’s commitment to and investment in transportation is a big one. According to Scott Fredericksen, president of ADM Transportation, this ability to move products is a value-added service that plays a key role in the company’s success.
“We facilitate the movement of our products from wherever they are located in the U.S. and the world to wherever they are needed. We move in multiple modes with multiple destinations, and so the process by its very nature is fluid. In that sense, transportation itself is like a commodity moving up and down with supply and demand.”
What are the opportunities to work in this important area of agriculture? McNulty explains that at CSX, there are multiple career paths, from front-line operations in the field to management jobs in the field and at headquarters.
“Of the 30,000 CSX employees, 25,000 are out in the yards doing the great work of moving trains from origin to destination,” he says. “The rail industry provides tremendous opportunities for people who enjoy working outdoors and are adept at working with large machinery. There are also commercial management opportunities in sales and marketing, finance, purchasing, and train operations.”
Fredericksen says that young people who have an overall knowledge of agriculture and how it moves within their own communities can bring that experience to a career in ag transportation on a larger scale. “There are opportunities in the physical movement of products as well as in the business processes that affect it, such as logistics, supply chain management, and financial analysis.”
He suggests that students look at internship offerings across the ag transportation sector to learn more about the opportunities available. ADM, for instance, offers a range of internships for college students between their sophomore and junior years.
McNulty explains that ag transportation is a very vibrant, growth-oriented business. “Young people with a good work ethic and strong leadership skills will find that it will provide job satisfaction and a bright future.”
While all modes of tranportation are essential for the agricultural industry, it’s been proven that water transport is the most efficient, when considering energy usage.
Water transport consumers much less energy per ton-mile of freight, than rail or truck transport. An inland barge carries one ton of cargo 514 miles per gallon of fuel. Compare that to a train, which can carry one ton of cargo 202 miles per gallon of fuel, or a semi-truck, which can only carry it 59 miles per gallon of fuel.
- Most effective for moving goods short distances
- Used heavily for perishable products and items that need refrigeration
- Popular for moving goods to/from the Western U.S.
- Very fast and efficient for moving grain
- Utilizes the expansive U.S. river system, including the powerful Mississippi River
- Requires precision and careful logistics