KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, U.S. — Trade, labor, and emerging technology in the form of AI and block chain were topics of discussion at the Fall 2018 Symposium of the Transportation, Elevator and Grain Merchants Association (TEGMA). The symposium took place Sept. 13-14 at the Downtown Marriott Kansas City and drew more than 120 attendees.

Greg Beck, senior vice-president of grain at CGB Enterprises, cited tightening margins, aging river systems and facilities and extreme weather conditions as factors posing serious challenges to grain trading and transportation companies.

“The U.S. is losing market share to the world as other countries gain share more quickly,” Beck said, adding that the United States should be aware of large increases in acreage that can be brought into production in Brazil.

He said the United States has an advantage in freight hauling, especially the efficiency of inland river transportation.

“The U.S. is the cheapest supplier to export channels; no other country has our advantages,” Beck said.

 Building on Beck’s assertion about the United States’ freight advantage, Grant Janke, assistant vice-president of network planning and operations at Union Pacific, said his company takes several precautions to ensure it runs reliably to meet shippers’ needs. A major key is having the right resources in the right place at the right time, he said. Key resources he identified include the workforce, main rail lines, locomotives, terminals and freight cars.

Janke said it’s important to coordinate resources and implement their capabilities, a process that requires a bi-annual planning strategy and cross departmental exercises.

Kevin Van Trump, founder and president of Farm Direction and the Van Trump Report, offered perspectives on staying competitive in a commoditized social and economic environment. During his presentation, Van Trump provided a futuristic overview of changing attitudes and behavior among millennials. Among the emerging trends he said he sees impacting agriculture are the rapid advancement of technology in the ag space. He also openly wondered how the grain industry might be affected if Hyperloop tubes were able to move grain from the Heartland to the Pacific Northwest in a matter of hours or minutes.

Shannon Herzfeld, vice-president of government relations for Archer Daniels Midland Co., offered insight into ongoing issues in Washington, D.C., U.S. She advised attendees to read gloomy headlines “with a grain of salt.” In reference to the trade dispute currently taking place between the United States and China Herzfeld said that in the end, the United States needs China and China needs the United States.

TEGMA celebrated its 100th anniversary as part of the two-day symposium. TEGMA is a North American trade association that brings together shippers and receivers, global grain companies, railroads, ports, storage houses, inspection agencies, and others involved in the shipment of North American grain to customers all over the world. TEGMA's mix of membership and mission provides it with a unique perspective on grain handling and transportation.