Ports & Terminals

Grain Barging Returns To Upper Missouri With New Blencoe Facility

A farmer-owned cooperative broke ground for a new $11 million barge loading and unloading terminal along the Missouri River on September 9 at Mile 680.5 near Blencoe, Iowa, between Council Bluffs and Sioux City. According to the Sioux City Journal, wet weather moved the ceremony from the site of the new port to a nearby warehouse.

The Blencoe facility will become the northernmost commercial port on the Missouri River, 760 river miles from St. Louis. The port will be able to handle  up to six barges at a time. A single barge can carry up to 50,000 bushels of grain. The port is expected to be serviced approximately 17 times a year by a fleeting service.  The facility hopes to annually accommodate 240,000 tons of soybeans, corn, dried distillers’ grains, dry fertilizers and ag lime.  This will allow high-volume freight to be shifted from Iowa’s roads to a navigable waterway.

It’s been about 15 years since barges regularly traveled this far north on the Missouri River. Sioux City had what the Sioux City Journal called a “thriving” barge industry until the early 2000s.

NEW Cooperative, a farmer-owned co-op with 5,000 owner-members, 39 locations in Iowa and 525 full-time employees, is building and will operate the port. NEW Cooperative was established in 1973 and is headquartered in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

The potential of the Blencoe site has long been recognized. Mark Walter, a grain manager at NEW Cooperative, said he has seen blueprints for a dock at the location from the 1930s that was never built.But the combination of a long drought that began in the 1980s, fighting over Missouri River management and low commodity prices drove shippers to rail and truck.

Upon completion, the port will initially provide new marketing options for 4 million bushels of soybeans produced in western Iowa, and 6 million to 8 million bushels as demand increases.

NEW Cooperative expects a limited number of barges to be loaded with soybeans for the export market as early as November or December 2020.

NEW Cooperative’s general manager, Dan Dix, said on the group’s website (www.newcoop.com), “We hope this will bring the world to western Iowa.”

The featured speakers during the ceremony were Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority.  Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, also spoke.

“In my role with the Soy Transportation Coalition, it should always be my aspiration to decrease the number of logistical steps between a farmer growing soybeans and an international customer purchasing a piece of meat produced from an animal that was fed U.S. soybean meal,” Steenhoek said. “Any opportunity to decrease the number of those logistical steps will translate into farmers receiving a greater economic value for the soybeans they produce.  As a farmer-owned and led company, NEW Cooperative’s investment in a new supply chain option shortens the distance between the farmer and the overseas customer.  There will be more money in a farmer’s wallet as a result.”

He added, “It is consistently documented that western Iowa soybean farmers often experience the widest and most negative basis levels in the state.” He said a new marketing option along the Missouri River will provide an additional outlet and profit opportunity for western Iowa soybeans. 

“NEW Cooperative’s investment will help demonstrate that barge transportation along the Missouri is more accessible than many understand. … As NEW Cooperative’s facility demonstrates success, I look forward to working with farmers in eastern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, and areas of Missouri to also explore further utilization of the Missouri River,” Steenhoek concluded.