Mike standing at the podium speaking.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of Soy Transportation Coalition, says the Port of Blencoe opens up opportunities along an underutilized asset, the Missouri River. (Photo: Bethany Baratta/ Iowa Soybean Association)

Cooperative breaks ground on Iowa port

September 10, 2020 | Bethany Baratta

An underutilized river on Iowa’s west coast will soon be a hub for soybeans and other products to the rest of the world.

The Port of Blencoe, situated between Council Bluffs and Sioux City, will provide Iowa farmers with expanded opportunities to market their grain globally. This week, NEW Cooperative, Inc., held a groundbreaking ceremony for its barge loading and unloading terminal adjacent to the Missouri River.

The 38-acre site is expected to annually accommodate 240,000 tons of soybeans, corn, dried distillers grains (DDGS), dry fertilizers and ag lime. The site will have the capacity to unload, clean and reload up to nine barges at a time. The port will be the most northern active port on the Missouri River, said Dan Dix, general manager of NEW Cooperative.

“Through NEW Cooperative, the new port will allow western Iowa farmers direct access to world export and import markets,” Dix said.

The Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) board of directors earlier this year approved an investment of $49,525 toward the engineering, design and plan development expenses required to allow construction of the facility to commence.

“We are trying to expand the competitiveness of Iowa soybeans, and this ties right into that,” said Jeff Jorgenson, ISA president-elect and a farmer near Sidney. “It’s another option, another outlet for our soybeans, and will hopefully better the bottom line for Iowa farmers.”

Port to the world

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said NEW Cooperative’s $11 million investment in the project is also an investment in the community, region and the state.

“With the addition of this port here on the Missouri River, as an innovator in moving grain to international markets, you’ll be instrumental in opening up an untapped world of opportunities for business and industries in this region,” Reynolds said.

Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Finance Authority and the Economic Development Authority, said the Port of Blencoe will allow Iowa’s farmers and industries to reach more customers throughout the world.

“A high-performing supply chain allows companies to deliver products to global consumers at a competitive price at the right time,” Durham said. “From an international trade perspective, improving our already strong transportation infrastructure is vital to the many Iowa businesses that export.”

She noted that Iowa exported more than $16 billion in manufactured goods and ag products to nearly 200 countries in 2019.

Shifting the river’s reputation

Jorgenson has experienced challenges farming in close proximity to the Missouri River. Most recently, Jorgenson experienced widespread flooding of his fields in 2019.

With a more coordinated effort with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and now another customer along the river with the Port of Blencoe, he hopes the reputation of the Missouri River will change.

“We’ve had issues with river management and making sure that the Missouri River is a reliable option,” Jorgenson said. “But hopefully, with more oversight of the river and more push from different people who want to use the river, that will improve.”

The Missouri River, the longest river in North America, is a key link between western Iowa farmers to St. Louis, Missouri, the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi River before flowing down to the Gulf of Mexico.  

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, said NEW Cooperative’s $11 million investment of the port is a commitment to revealing the opportunities the Missouri River can provide to farmers and their downstream customers.

“You’re providing important access to an important maritime highway,” Steenhoek said.

The Port of Blencoe not only provides economic benefits to farmers with greater competition for soybeans, it also creates momentum for future ports along the Missouri River, he said.

“As you’re successful in the months and years to come, I’m excited about seeing Eastern Nebraska farmers ask the question, ‘If it’s happening in Blencoe, why can’t it happen here?’ And Eastern Kansas farmers ask, ‘If it’s happening in Blencoe, why can’t it happen here?’ ”

Dix said upstream shipments of fertilizers, aggregates and other commodities will arrive into the site and be stored and marketed through wholesale partners and to NEW Cooperative’s customers.

Some barges could be loaded as early as November this year; upstream deliveries could arrive in spring 2021.

The new port and the 12 jobs it’s expected to create initially is a bright spot in a year plagued with challenges, Dix said.

“Iowa farmers need every advantage they can get,” he said. “Years of low commodity prices, droughts, tariffs, and most recently the derecho have devastated Iowa producers. This project is designed to bring some much-needed help to an industry so vital to us all.”

“I’m really excited,” Jorgenson said. “It’s more competition for our grain, and another way to get our grain to customers worldwide.”

Contact Bethany Baratta at bbaratta@iasoybeans.com.