By Matt Reese
As a result of its central location, access to major waterways and plenty of railways, Ohio has an abundance of empty shipping containers sitting around. More stuff comes in to be distributed than there is stuff that is going out.
Along with all of the empty shipping containers, Ohio is also blessed with abundant agricultural commodities including corn and soybeans that are in demand around the world. It is only logical that Ohio’s top commodity crops, especially high-end food-grade non-GMO crops, be shipped to the world via empty containers.
“A lot of the premium specialty soybean market is transported in containers. And when freight rates go up for overseas shipping, we start to see more of the commodity grains going into containers,” said Kirk Merritt, executive director of the Ohio Soybean Council (OSC). “We also see export buyers that do not want to buy in bulk, but are interested in a small number of containers instead of buying a tanker load.”
There are several businesses in Ohio that have taken on the challenges of container shipping soybeans in particular, but this state has an inherent disadvantage when it comes to container shipping on the highways. Ohio load limits for containers have been lower than other competing states.
“The overall idea was to create new opportunities for farmers to benefit from exports of containerized grain,” Merritt said. “But in Illinois, for example, they are shipping many times more volume of containerized grain exports than Ohio. Part of that is a result of the fact that they have a lot of containers coming into Chicago. Of all of the other Midwestern states, Ohio has the next highest volume of containers, so there is no reason why we cannot significantly increase the volume of grain that is being exported in containers out of Ohio. But when you loaded the container in Ohio and drove to the intermodal facility, the weight that was allowed was lower than in competing states.”
This put Ohio container shipping at a disadvantage right from the start, making grain in Ohio containers more expensive than in other states simply due to shipping costs.
“A coalition of agricultural organizations, including Ohio Soybean Association (OSA), the Ohio Corn Growers Association, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and the Ohio AgriBusiness Association started working to level the playing field for Ohio when it came to containerized exports of gain in relation to other states,” Merritt said. “This is a good example of an issue that originated with some checkoff research and a study, which led to an opportunity for the OSA to advocate for the higher weight rules. Then there was great partnership to work on this.”
The teamwork that resulted has proven to be effective in solving the problem.
“Some independent grain producers brought the problem to the ag community’s attention and the administration was sympathetic after looking at the data from other states,” said Rocky Black, OSC director of bioproduct utilization and outreach. “The first conversations on this occurred well over two years ago. Our coalition continued to raise the issue with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the governor’s office. Early this summer ODOT, started working on new rules. There were several stakeholder meetings including the Ohio Manufacturers Association, the Ohio Trucking Association and other groups. In late summer, we saw a draft of the rules. The rules were reviewed by Ohio’s Joint Committee on Rule Review (JCARR) in the Ohio legislature. They were approved and went into effect in late October.”
The new weight limit permits for trucks hauling grain and other products in shipping containers bound for international markets will be issued by ODOT and will allow a truck plus its cargo to weigh up to 94,000 pounds on state roadways, exceeding the previous legal limit of 80,000 pounds. The permits will cover the container’s travel between its loading location on a truck and an intermodal facility, where it would then be loaded on a train, barge or ship. The permits require the loading location and intermodal facility to be located in Ohio.
“We’re very excited about the new weight limits,” said Jeff Wuebker, OSA president. “These will help keep Ohio farmers competitive with other states that already have similar limits and also help increase the competitiveness of the containerized shipping industry for specialty soybeans.”
Illinois and Indiana already had this type of permit for overweight trucks carrying export containers. Ohio shippers are optimistic that the volume of containerized exports of grain and other products from Ohio will increase now that the per-bushel transportation costs are competitive with other sources of supply.
“This weight adjustment is important to Ohio farmers so they will be able to get their products to international markets,” said Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, a member of JCARR. “It is also very important that we do all we can to support our agricultural industry in Ohio.”
The members of the JCARR committee are Sen. and chair Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond; Rep. Clyde Evans, R-Rio Grande; Sen. Karen Gillmor, R-Tiffin; Sen. Grendell; Rep. Sandra Harwood, D-Niles; Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield; Rep. Mike Moran, D-Hudson; Sen. Sue Morano, D-Lorain; Rep. Mike Skindell, D-Lakewood; and Sen. Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton.
“Interested farmers would generally need to work through a facility that has the capability to load the containers, do the inspection process and transport the containers by truck. The permits are per truck, per route and there are 6 or 7 facilities approved for new weight limits,” Merritt said. “Most of the shippers will benefit from this. We would be happy to talk with any farmers who are interested in learning more about these opportunities. This new rule is a good example of what we can get done when we work together.”
For more information, contact the Ohio Soybean Association at 614-476-3100. For details of the new permitting process, visit http://www.dot.state.oh.us/Divisions/HighwayOps/Maintenance/Permits/Pages/default.aspx.