By NATALIE KEE
JEFFERSONVILLE, Ohio — Picture rolling hills covered in soybeans, dirt roads, fields of corn waving in the wind, a line of semitrailer waiting to enter the Central Ohio Logistics Center, and a line of railcars waiting to leave.
To some, the semitrailer and railcars may seem out of place. To the folks at Bluegrass Farms of Ohio and the Ohio Department of Development, the semis and railcars simply mean that the Central Ohio Logistics Center, an intermodal “mega site,” has finally come to fruition.
Bluegrass Farms started in the 1980s when the Martin family began raising identity preserved soybeans for local suppliers. Today, in addition to producing identity preserved beans, Bluegrass works exclusively with non-GMO, or non-genetically modified organism, crops.
Bluegrass tests seeds before they are planted, contracts third-party inspections of fields to ensure purity, tests each truck load that enters the facility, and has each lot tested at the state certification lab to support their guarantee of 99.5 percent purity.
In 2004, Bluegrass Farms began exporting food-grade soybeans, a venture that proved successful enough to warrant the building of a new processing facility, which opened in 2008.
Stepping into Bluegrass’s processing facility is like stepping into the future: Nearly everything is automated.
There are machines to sort soybeans by weight, size, and even color. There is a robotic arm that precisely loads the pallets, and a turntable contraption that shrink-wraps each pallet.
Most soybeans enter and leave Bluegrass’s processing facility without ever being touched by human hands, making them the perfect choice for inclusion in food products, like soy sauce, soymilk, tempe, and tofu.
A majority of Bluegrass’ product gets shipped internationally, primarily to Asia. In this technological age, Bluegrass can receive an order from Asia, fill it, and load it onto a truck within a matter of hours, or, at the maximum, a couple of days.
That is, if there is an empty truck on which to load the order, and a ship available to take it, once the load gets to port. Even though Bluegrass is located at the continental divide of freight — meaning it takes the same amount of time to ship something westward to Asia as it does to ship something eastward to Asia — their products still get stuck in a transportation logjam.
Bluegrass hopes to remedy this with the development of its $10 million Central Ohio Logistics Center, and has received a $7.5 million forgivable state loan (link opens .pdf) to finance the facility.
COLC, as it is commonly called, is the only “mega site” currently in development in Ohio. The idea is to create an intermodal terminal, utilizing all three forms of shipment: trucks, railcars, and ships or barges. The center is part of the Ohio Valley Trade Corridor, a plan for a regional system of intermodal centers.
The cargo-loading facility can handle products being shipped domestically, and those headed abroad would have a short rail or truck ride to the container-to-barge Queensgate Terminal that Bluegrass Farms is developing in Cincinnati, directly on the Ohio River.
Once there, the product can be loaded onto a barge and sent on its way, down the river.
Expediting the whole shipping process not only increases the amount of product Bluegrass can accept and process, but also helps ensure food safety and security. The longer a container of soybeans sits in a rail yard or shipping port, waiting to be picked up, the higher probability there is of contamination.
It may seem strange to locate a gigantic shipping facility in the middle of farm country, in Fayette County, Ohio, however, from a strictly logistical perspective, it is the perfect location. Sixty percent of the American and Canadian marketplaces are only one trucking day away from the proposed site of the COLC.
And, as mentioned, it takes the same amount of time, from this location, to ship westward to Asia as it does to ship eastward to Asia, and utilizing the Ohio River means products can be shipped year-round because the Ohio is in a frost-free zone.