Weinzierl Honored With Diolkos Award At Rail And Maritime Summit

The 2023 Rail & Maritime Summit, an annual event held this year on June 13 that features distinguished professionals from the rail and maritime sectors, presented its Diolkos Award to Rod Weinzierl, executive director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association. Weinzierl is a third-generation farmer, known as the “corn whisperer” on Twitter, who recently celebrated his 35th anniversary of working for Illinois Corn.

This was the 13th year of the summit, which was held at the Union League Club in downtown Chicago.

Weinzierl was introduced by Mary Elizabeth Pitz, founder of the Rail and Maritime Summit, who called him “a strategic thinker, a problem solver, a true leader in the U.S. corn industry.”

Weinzierl earned his Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural sciences and production from Illinois State University. He first joined Illinois Corn as its market development director in 1988 and became its executive director in 1993. Prior to Illinois Corn, he spent five years with the Cooperative Extension Service as the Tazewell County agricultural adviser.

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In his current role, Pitz said, Weinzierl has developed a close working relationship with the University of Illinois to understand critical crop insurance issues and make those tools perform better for farmers. He has led collaboration with other ag groups in understanding water quality issues, doing needed research and implementing voluntary solutions to avoid costly regulations to producers in the state. “He is the driver for various consumer and farmer-friendly sustainability programs that position agriculture as a solution rather than a cause,” she said. “These dual-purpose environmental initiatives, designed and drafted in the Ilinois Corn office, are just another great example of his vision and leadership.”

The Diolkos Award honors individuals prominent in supply chain management. The original Diolkos was a famous wagon road operated in ancient Greece from 600 B.C. to 50 A.D. The wagonway was an access road, similar in size to today’s railroads, that ran across the northern tip of the Isthmus of Corinth, linking the dangerous Peloponnesian Seas safely. Referred to as the Mother of the Modern Railroad, nothing like it occurred again until the 19th century. Its name combined the Greek words for “across” and “portage machine.”

Maritime Speakers

Keynote speakers from the maritime world at the summit included Merritt Lane, president and CEO of Canal Barge; Brandy Christian, president and CEO of PortNOLA; David Cummins, president and CEO of the Blue Sky Maritime Coalition; Peter Stephaich, chairman of Campbell Transportaion Company; Clark Robertson, chief operating officer of the Port of Corpus Christi; Mary Ann Bucci, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh; and Tracy Zea, president and CEO of Waterways Council Inc.

Zea spoke on the importance of the inland waterways system, highlighting the decrease in unscheduled lock outages since 2010 as the system has received several boosts in lock and dam construction and major rehab. The next three to five years will be “critical” for the inland waterways construction program, he said, as waterways and logistics professionals strive to keep Congress focused on national priorities.

Mike Sullivan, director of the Great Lakes Gateway office for the Maritime Administration, spoke on opportunities and updates in that office, covering the array of grants and funding available to ports across federal agencies. Bethann Rooney, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, gave updates on improvements there, targeting efforts to “right-size” the supply chain. Besides seaports, the port authority operates airports, bridges and tunnels, bus and rail transit and a substantial real estate portfolio.

Decarbonization Focus

Decarbonization was a prominent topic among the maritime speakers. Cummins of the Blue Sky Coalition, a non-profit group of companies, non-governmental organizations and public entities collaborating to reduce emissions, presented “A Roadmap to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

Lane also spoke on “Navigating the Path to Zero Emissions,” which laid out some challenges in reducing carbon emissions in the maritime sector. The high-level look concluded that switching as much cargo as possible to water transport is a practical way for logistics companies to reduce their emissions. Even as the maritime sector looks for cost-effective ways to reduce its own emissions, water transport is still the greenest mode—especially because the inland waterways system has significant capacity to handle increased volume if maintained and modernized.

Lane admitted that with hulls that can last 75 years, the forces driving change in inland towboats are limited, but they include Subchapter M and what he called customer “ageism.” Lane said experimentation and prototyping will occur mostly in harbor services, individual ships or liner services before making a big impact on the inland boat and barge segment. Canal Barge buys more than 20 million gallons of diesel per year from more than 40 locations. Lane said that with 71 percent of its vessels having engines at Tier 2 or above, Canal is one of the greenest towing companies.

“Within our company we have now added carbon footprint effects to all capital decisions. It is not yet a driver of our evaluation nearly so much as an outcome of efficiency, but it is now a factor that we will consider and measure,” he said. He ended with a discussion of alternative marine fuels along with their “pain points.” Commercial viability is key, he said.

Robertson’s presentation, titled “The Era of ‘And’ at the Energy Port of the Americas,” focused on the port’s leadership in pursuing carbon capture and utilization opportunities. Corpus Christi is now No. 1 among ports in wind generation and No. 2 in solar. Important projects include the Coastal Bend Carbon Management Partnership. The port is cultivating “world-scale ammonia producers,” with those efforts in the site-selection phase, he said. In January, the port was one of 33 applicants “invited” by the Department of Energy to submit its Hydrogen Hub proposal. Existing users at the port already use hydrogen in their refining process. Horizons Clean Hydrogen Hub projects will use and add to 110 miles of existing H2 pipelines.