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New Missouri River Barge Facility Another Way For Western Iowa Farmers To Reach Export Markets

Western Iowa farmers have more access to international markets through a new port along the Missouri River in Monona County.
NEW Cooperative
Western Iowa farmers have a new way to reach international markets through a new port along the Missouri River in Monona County.

Farmers can now export their grain and get fertilizer through a new port along the Missouri River in Monona County. The $11 million port gives area farmers a new way to reach international markets.

NEW Cooperative Inc. built the facility near Blencoe. Frank Huseman, NEW Cooperative’s operations manager, said the Port of Blencoe can accommodate six barges at a time – maybe even up to nine.

“Generally, we will plan on an April to November shipping timeframe,” Huseman said. “Our goal is to bring 80 barges up and send 80 barges down.”

Those barges will be loaded with an aggregate total of 240,000 tons of corn, soybeans and other materials, he said.

Huseman said the farm supply cooperative in north-central Iowa's Webster County has 6,000 members and about 40 locations scattered in small towns from Interstate 35 to Interstate 29.

“We're always looking for ways to become more efficient, always looking for ways to add value to our farmer member operations,” Huseman said. “Any way we can find that's going to enhance our members’ operations is a win.”

There used to be a port in Blencoe that was permitted in the 1930s, but Huseman said it “had not been used for a number of years.” Western Iowa farmers also used to have direct access to barge traffic north of Monona County in Sioux City, but the city’s public museum says local barge traffic ended in 2003. If area farmers wanted to send their grains to other countries, they had to send them by truck or rail to the Mississippi River, said Iowa State University agricultural economist Chad Hart.

“Now with this port in place, they’re hooked along the river system just like eastern Iowa,” Hart said. “It gives them new opportunities to reach the foreign markets. They could reach them before. It was just more difficult before.”

Hart said area farmers will see a slight increase in the prices for their products because of more demand. Mike Steenhoek, the executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, said farmers who get the highest prices for their soybeans or corn often live close to rivers.

“Because you’ve got this very efficient transportation system that you’re able to benefit from that’s less costly than some of the other alternative modes of transportation,” Steenhoek said.

Steenhoek said he expects that area farmers will still use trucks or trains to transport their grains, in addition to the port.

“One of the cardinal rules in supply chain is you don’t want to put your eggs in one basket,” Steenhoek said. “When you’re able to avail yourself of barge and rail and trucking that tends to benefit you as a shipper.”

The project is the northernmost port along the Missouri River, which is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In a statement to IPR, David Sobczyk, the operations project manager for the Missouri River Project, said the Corps worked with NEW Cooperative to ensure the barge facility would not negatively impact the authorized purposes of the river. Those include flood control, navigation and recreation, among other things.

“It is exciting to see increases in the navigation traffic above Kansas City and it will be interesting to see the type of resurgence this could initiate in some of the more historic facilities around and above Omaha,” Sobczyk said in an email. “USACE remains committed as a strong proponent of all our authorized purposes within the Missouri River corridor.”

The Corps is authorized to maintain the Missouri River at 300 feet wide by 9 feet deep, which Sobczyk said are the same dimensions across the stretch of the river from Sioux City to St. Louis.

Sobczyk said the Missouri River is “authorized as a navigation project” for approximately 735 miles from Sioux City to St. Louis, but most of the navigation traffic has occurred between St. Louis to Kansas City, Mo. in recent years.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.