GREAT FALLS — Montana farmers raise some of the highest quality wheat and barley in the world so, making sure it can be delivered to exports around the globe is critically important.
Farmers heard firsthand from the waterway and railway industries about their commitment to Montana's grain industry. It's a top issue being addressed at the 66th annual Montana Grain Growers Association convention is underway in Great Falls this week.
MGGA Vice President and chairman of the annual convention, Tryg Koch of Kalispell, said understanding how Montana grain makes its way along the supply chain is important for all farmers to understand.
“I would say it is probably one of the most important things you need to know about getting your grain to market,” Koch said. “That's how we as producers get our checks for the commodities that we grow. Without the railways, without the waterways, we don't get our products to export, and it makes our products not as valuable when we don't have that smooth, easy transportation system.”
Each day BNSF trains can be seen transporting Montana grain to west coast ports. The company believes an open line of communication between farmers and the railroad is key to success.
“Customer feedback is extremely important to us,” said Angela Caddell, VP of Ag Products for BNSF Railway. “We want to hear what their concerns are. We want to understand the outlook and their business outlook and demand outlook. So that we can ensure we have the right resources in the right places to handle that demand.”
While trains are more visible in transporting grain across Montana, barges carrying the commodity through the Columbia River Basin typically carry 50% of the nation’s grain for export. Kristin Meira — the executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association based in Portland — said the transportation of the grain on the waterway increased to 60% in 2021.
“We know that our Montana growers grow some the highest quality wheat and other grains out there,” Meira said. It's reliable. But we need to make sure that our Montana growers have access to export markets so they can feed the world. We know that everything that happens on the Lower Columbia River, at the terminals on our waterways, is absolutely important all the way back to the farm.
Both the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association and BNSF Railway invest billions of dollars each year into improving their respective infrastructure systems to ensure farmers can get their commodities delivered.
“We have a long-term growth model mentality at BNSF,” said Caddell. “We want to partner with customers to achieve those long-term growth goals. We continually invest back in our network through capital dollars and increasing our infrastructure. Making sure our railroads are in tip-top shape. Also, a great expansion projects to increase the fluidity and velocity of our trains.”
Each year, approximately 80% of the Montana wheat and barley crop is exported out of the country to buyers all over the world. That's why it's so important to have the proper infrastructure in place to help deliver our high-quality wheat and barley to customers around the world.