New Partnership Works To Digitize Common Barge Industry Transactions

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) announced July 14 its official partnership with a new affiliated organization, National Grain and Feed Digital Solutions (NGFDS), to oversee the widely anticipated new Barge Digital Transformation platform.

The BDT project, under discussion for two years and in serious development since early 2019, is a massive undertaking to digitize the current time-consuming, inefficient, costly, paperwork-intensive processes common in the barge trade. In particular, the new platform is expected to digitize the approximately 70,000 to 100,000 negotiable barge bills of lading that NGFA members process each year.

“This is truly a momentous development projected to save barge users significant transportation costs now being incurred, while greatly improving efficiency,” said NGFDS Chairman Brittany Schaefer, logistics manager at Bunge North America. “My hope is that launching this innovative, secure platform for transmitting barge-related paperwork is just one step toward a future of efficient data transmission throughout the agricultural supply chain.”

“The establishment of NGFDS and the ensuing implementation of this electronic platform is yet another example of NGFA members working together to drive change and develop a solution that meets the business needs of the collective industry,” said NGFA President and CEO Randy Gordon. “All those who use or benefit from barge transportation owe a tremendous thanks to the steering committee, and particularly Brittany Schaefer, for the countless hours of time and intensive, detailed effort that has brought us to this threshold. NGFA is excited to be partnering with and supporting NGFDS in bringing this solution to the marketplace, and NGFA remains open to exploring additional opportunities for providing technological solutions to enhance industry operations.”

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General discussions recognizing the industry’s need for the initiative began after an open meeting in New Orleans, La., in early 2018. Intensive work toward a solution, including project scoping and design and development of a prototype, began with a three-day session in St. Louis, Mo., in October 2018.

After a rigorous search process, a technology partner–essDOCS–was selected from a field of strong candidates in October 2019. Since that time, the industry group of NGFA member companies has been working with essDOCS to develop the new platform. User testing now is underway, with the goal of deploying the digital platform and training industry members on its use scheduled to begin by the end of this summer.

To oversee and administer the new platform, NGFDS was formed and officially certified as a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(6) non-profit corporation earlier this year. At its first organizational meeting, NGFDS elected the following officers and directors: chairman, Brittany Schaefer, Bunge North America; vice chairman, Julie Detlefsen, Cargill Inc.; executive director, Charlie Delacruz, NGFA; treasurer, Steve Oberlander, CHS Inc.; and secretary/assistant treasurer, Mary Hitchcock, NGFA.