IFB Annual Value Chain Tour visits St. Louis companies

Farmer-leaders learn more about the issues food companies face.

Rich Coffman of Lange-Stegmann, center, talks with farmer Chad Bell about fertilizer storage capacity at the company’s facility along the Mississippi River during Illinois Farm Bureau’s annual spring Value Chain Tour. (Photo by Ryan Tracy)

By Ryan Tracy

Illinois Farm Bureau’s annual spring Value Chain Tour in St. Louis brought Illinois commodity group representatives together recently to focus on building relationships and learn about obstacles and issues food companies face.  

Tour participants included IFB President Richard Guebert Jr.; Jake Perino, Illinois Beef Association; Don Duvall, Illinois Corn Growers Association; Toby Probst, Illinois Milk Promotion Board; Chad Bell, Illinois Pork Producers Association; Scott Gaffner, Illinois Soybean Association; Randy Graham, Illinois Specialty Growers Association; John Ernst, Illinois Wheat Association; and Mark Gebhards and Rae Payne, IFB Governmental Affairs Division.

The tour began at Italgrani, an Italian, family-owned company involved in domestic and international grain trading, grain milling and grain elevator businesses. The 2014 Value Chain Tour visited Italgrani. Since then, Italgrani added a second mill last year, which has more than doubled the company’s production.

The company is completing construction of a 30,000-square-foot bagging house located across from the two mills. They are one of the world’s largest durum wheat mills and provide semolina flour to many of the world’s pasta makers. Basically, if you have eaten pasta, you have consumed their flour.

St. Louis Economic Partnership representatives talked about their 39 North Master Plan. Funded by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the plan looks to advance the region’s leadership in plant and life sciences, attracting companies and workers to the area. To drive the plan home, the group heard from The Danforth Plant Science Center as well as Benson Hills, a company that was created out of the St. Louis biotech incubator.

At Osborn Barr, participants learned about the communication firm’s philosophy of “Champions of Rural Spirit.” Osborn Barr works with many agriculture clients on messaging, ad campaigns and areas in which the companies can improve telling agriculture’s story.

To close out the day, the group met with several leaders from Bayer Crop Sciences. The 2018 merger of Monsanto and Bayer prompted questions from the agriculture industry on what the merger would look like and how that might change the landscape of the industry. Bayer was able to relay some information on how things have changed for them, how things are moving forward, and areas farmers and industry can work together.

Day two started with a tour of Lange-Stegmann, the northernmost Mississippi River fertilizer port, which is lock-free, ice-free, and open year-round. More than half of the nitrogen fertilizer, and much of the phosphate and potash, consumed in the U.S. is imported and must be moved from the point of origin to the point of use. A tour of the grounds showed an impressive ability to unload by barge and load onto rail.

At Panera Bread, participants met with their supply chain vice president to learn more about one of the most successful fast-causal restaurants in the U.S. The group heard about many of the company’s sourcing issues as well as some of future plans for expansion around the globe.

St. Louis has become one of the leading biotechnology research centers in the world. The Value Chain Tour concluded with a meeting of BioStL representatives and a few recent ag tech startups. BioStL started as a $30 million commitment from Washington University in St. Louis, BJC HealthCare and the St. Louis Life Sciences Project to foster bioscience companies and drive economic growth in St. Louis.

The nonprofit is now working to help start-up companies around the world, recruiting them to St. Louis and helping them with their needs in office and laboratory space as well as other needs. Two companies the group heard from are looking for farmer input and are actively looking to be partners with agriculture, not just utilizing their data for their own purposes.

The Value Chain Tour is an exciting opportunity, bringing Illinois ag leaders together to hear about what is happening throughout the industry and try to identify areas of future collaboration. Attendees learned a lot of interesting things happening throughout our industry that they didn’t even know were occurring. Figuring out ways to solve the issues of our industry together is a worthwhile cause and one that we look forward to tackling.

Ryan Tracy serves as IFB director of external relations.