Hello everyone! My name is Kamryn Endress and I am currently a senior Agricultural Business major at Western Illinois University. I will be “virtually” graduating in May. Like everyone else, our current reality was one that I could have never imagined when I left class for the last time on March 5th for Spring Break. The COVID-19 situation has definitely changed our worlds and has truly shown us the difference between essential and non essential. I am proud to be involved in an industry that will forever be deemed essential.
I want to start by thanking everyone at the Grain and Feed Association of IL for this tremendous opportunity. I spoke about my experience on last summer’s Industry Immersion Tour in my previous blog. In February, I was able to catch up with everyone at the Convention and Trade show - another awesome experience! Thank you to everyone who put in so many hours to make that a possibility, and to all of the scholarship donors. It is humbling to know that we have their support through our educational journey. This experience has been a highlight of my college career and I was fortunate to meet some pretty amazing people and make some great connections through the GFAI Scholarship!
I had the opportunity to spend my intern days with GROWMARK/Western Grain Marketing both last fall and this spring. I met with Luke Metz at the Virginia Facility in March. The atmosphere was a little different than last fall due to the COVID-19 situation. WGM had recently closed their facilities to non essential visitors, with some employees working remotely from home. I currently work for West Central FS, a GROWMARK member company, and we have taken many of the same measures. Despite that, Luke was still able to provide a great learning opportunity as we discussed an important aspect that will affect the grain industry this summer - the Illinois waterway lock closures.
This summer, Illinois will have many waterway lock closures that will have an impact on grain businesses across the state. These locks will be dewatered and traffic will be unable to pass at Marseilles, Starved Rock, Peoria, and LaGrange. The LaGrange Lock and Dam closure will have the largest impact on WGM’s grain transportation and storage. This closure will begin on July 1st and last until at least September 30th for major rehabilitation and lock machinery replacement. The Beardstown and Havana, IL locations are going to be the most affected in the southern region of the WGM. Based on last year’s business, the company is expecting to have to redirect approximately 6-10 million bushels to be stored in alternative methods; either stored elsewhere or internally. These two locations each put around 100 barges on the river. The only way barges will be able to be loaded at these locations is if the water conditions become high enough so that wickets can be lowered for open pass, allowing traffic to bypass the locks at LaGrange and Peoria. It is not guaranteed that these wickets will be able to be lowered, and there is also a possibility that this closure could last longer than September 30th.
I caught up with Luke again in April. We discussed how the COVID situation has changed their daily operations and how the company is committed to handling the essential needs of their customers. WGM has ensured that their customers are their priority by staying in front of growers with alternative methods of business which includes communicating through text messages, phone calls, and email. Luke was pleased with how well the customers have grasped the technology and said they have done an incredible job adapting to it under these circumstances. The company has also started setting up direct deposit and an online platform that allows customers to view their contracts and delivery sheets online. In times like these, technology truly is a wonderful tool in the Ag industry!
Thank you for reading, I hope you all have a wonderful and healthy summer! And once again, thank you to everyone at GFAI for coordinating such an awesome experience, as well as the multiple companies across the state that are willing to take the time to provide this hands-on opportunity to the scholarship recipients every year!