Candid Conversation | Aaron Barrett, Chief Operating Officer for Ingram Barge - Kentucky Farm Bureau

Candid Conversation | Aaron Barrett, Chief Operating Officer for Ingram Barge

Posted on Mar 20, 2024

Candid Conversation presents a discussion about the topical issues related to Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) priorities, the agricultural industry, and rural communities, in a question-and-answer format. In this edition, Aaron Barrett, Chief Operating Officer for Ingram Barge discusses the importance of barge transportation for famers and the riverport system.

Aaron Barrett, COO
Ingram Barge

KFB: Would you share a little history about Ingram Barge?

AB: Ingram Barge is the leading carrier on our country’s inland waterways, transporting dry and liquid commodities on over 4,500 miles of water, including the rivers Kentucky farmers use to move their goods. For more than 75 years, we have been committed to setting the river industry standard of excellence, both in operations and in superior customer service. We began as a family-owned and operated organization and continue as one today.

KFB: On a typical day how many barges do you have traveling along the waterways that border Kentucky?

AB: It fluctuates, but we have roughly 1,200 barges at any given time bordering Kentucky. These would be on the Lower Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers.

KFB: From Ingram’s perspective, how vital is the system of riverports that are located in Kentucky?

AB: They are extremely vital not just to Kentucky farmers but to our entire national economy. Ingram moves over 100 million bushels of grain (corn and soybeans) from the Kentucky riverports annually. The majority of this grain goes down to the New Orleans area for export to Asia, Europe, and South America. The efficient movement of these goods would not be possible without the riverport system.

KFB: In looking at our waterways, most farmers I have spoken with tell me how much more cost effective it is to use our river system to get their commodities to markets. Would you elaborate on that?

AB: Shipping grain by barge on the US river system is the greenest, most cost-effective way to ship grain. In fact, using the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to move product is one of the biggest reasons why U.S. grains are competitive in the global marketplace. The inland waterways allow us to maintain our competitiveness vs. South America in exporting grain to the world.

For reference, it takes roughly 60 trucks to fill one barge. Our river system is the gateway for the farmers in our country to get to markets that they would not have access to otherwise.

KFB: As we look to advocate for more funding for our riverports, how important is it to you that these ports have the funding to upgrade and or expand?

AB: We must invest in the riverports to be as efficient as possible and to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Grain margins are usually very thin so any competitive advantage and efficiency gain with upgrades will make U.S. grain more competitive globally. Several cents per bushel can make or break trades in the global market when countries are looking to buy our grains vs. South American grain.

Making sure we have the funding necessary to continue to compete in the global marketplace is extremely important.

KFB: Our farmers become more productive every year growing larger, and larger crops. I would assume that would mean more business is possible for your company or other barge companies?

AB: Sixty-five  percent of grain exported out of the United States is exported out of the Port of New Orleans. South America has been taking market share away from the US in the export market over the past several years, so having efficient ports along the waterways and shipping via the river system helps reduce costs for shippers and makes U.S. grain more competitive. Bigger crops mean more potential business coming to the river, but a lot of variables impact U.S. grain exports. The price of grain, ocean freight, barge freight, and supply of grains in South America is what drives our export demand.

KFB: And with that increased production, are the riverports a key connection between you and the farmer?

AB: Yes - the riverports are the key connection between us and the farmer. The farmer grows the crop and delivers it to the riverport where we then load it onto one of our barges. That barge will then travel downriver to New Orleans to an export elevator. After that, it gets loaded onto a vessel to its final destination.

Therefore, a healthy riverport system is vital to the agriculture community and the export program of U.S. grain constitutes a major sector of the U.S. economy.

KFB: Most farmers have told me that the riverports are a critical part of their farming operation. That means the barges that move their commodities is just as much a part of that. Is that a good way to look at it?

AB: Absolutely. We know how critical of a role the farmer plays in our economy and supporting them is something we are incredibly proud of as a company. Using the riverport system, we are able to provide them with a sustainable and a cost-effective way to get their products to the global market. This allows them to stay competitive.


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