The Port of Blencoe officially opened for business this

A loading area at the Port of Blencoe will load soybeans and other commodities onto barges. (Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Port expands opportunities for Iowa soybean farmers

June 3, 2021 | Bethany Baratta

With the cutting of the ribbon, a gateway to the world market officially opened for business this week.

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 the ribbon cutting 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. Eight barges have already been in and out of the port within the last six weeks, according to Dan Dix, general manager of NEW Cooperative. Two additional barges were expected to arrive June 2.

“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 in 2020 approved an investment of $49,525 toward the engineering, design and plan development expenses required to allow construction of the facility to commence.

ISA President Jeff Jorgenson says the port’s opening is encouraging for the opportunities it brings to farmers.

“This is a catalyst for western Iowa farmers and the opportunities that we’ll have to move products out and work on some of our input prices,” says Jorgenson, who farmers along the river near Sidney.

The river expands opportunities for marketing soybeans, improving intermodal competition and therefore basis prices for farmers. Additionally, the port welcomes barges which will be offloaded, improving the cost competitiveness of fertilizer and other inputs for farmers.

“It’s going to be a really good scenario for this northwest part of Iowa,” Jorgenson says.

Gateway 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.

“The port is a historic achievement,” Reynolds says. “It promotes economic prosperity of the region and connects western Iowa famers and their products to a world that can’t seem to get enough of them. It’s a win for farmers, Monona County and Iowa.”

Expanding opportunities for farmers was a key factor in establishing the port, Dix says.

“At the end of the day, we want to give our producers and owners a competitive advantage,” Dix says.

Two years later, NEW Cooperative is delivering that opportunity, despite Covid-19, weather disruptions, and other headwinds. The ribbon-cutting event was a proud moment for Dix, who grew up on a farm near Waverly.

“It’s something that a farm kid didn’t think he’d ever get to experience” Dix said. “It’s exciting to see the level of pride in our workforce around it.”

A change in perspective

Jorgenson has experienced challenges farming near 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, which has assured that it will maintain a 9-foot-deep, 300-foot-wide channel, Jorgenson hopes this port opening will change the reputation of the river.

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

“Maybe this port is such a big draw that we really get barge traffic pushing on the western side of the state,” Jorgenson said. “That’s the goal — that’s what’s going to help Iowa farmers.”

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.  

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig says investing in transportation infrastructure will pay dividends near term and down the road.

“For agriculture we are so directly linked to the ability to move the product timely,” Naig says. “So, when I think of infrastructure that benefits ag and rural Iowa, I think of transportation infrastructure. We know this is an underutilized asset in that we can see more of this kind of activity, but this means that the Missouri River has to have a reliable navigation channel.”