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From farm gate to export terminal: CHS sets students on soybean journey

Jan 17, 2024

Mid-December on college campuses typically signals a time to rest between semesters and break from academic rigor. In late 2023, for a group of Iowa State University undergraduate and graduate students and their instructors, an adventure in hands-on learning was just beginning.

Fourteen ag business and ag economics scholars embarked on a journey that showcased the U.S. soybean supply chain and the role cooperatives and CHS play from start to finish. The brainchild of Bobby Martens, Iowa Institute for Cooperatives endowed economics professor, the week-long trip focused on the soybean value chain, from farm gate to ocean export terminal, and included many opportunities to engage with CHS experts along the way.

“The soybean space is huge, changing quickly and ripe for exploration and learning,” says Martens. “We wanted to dig into topics like crush capacity, soy oil, biodiesel, renewable diesel, soy meal, feed, logistics and other supply chain topics. The goal was for students to get out of the classroom and hear from experts in the cooperative system and ag business.”

Semi tanker at processing plant 
Iowa State University students visited the CHS soy processing facility at Mankato, Minn.

The group spent a day at the CHS soybean processing facility at Mankato, Minn., where they took part in a safety education session before hearing from Todd Biedenfeld and Darrin Carlson about global soybean oil and meal markets. Their tour began at the scale, where beans first arrive on site, and concluded with a look at destinations for the resulting soybean meal, hulls, flakes, flour and oil.

The students visited CHS headquarters the following day to meet with other CHS soy supply chain experts and President and CEO Jay Debertin to learn about global soybean trade, supply chain innovation and the effect of renewable fuels on oilseed demand from several other CHS experts. They also heard from Lauren Bucci, human resources talent acquisition manager, about career opportunities at CHS. Martens and two students paused to remark on their experience (in the video above).

“Whether you're interested in the more traditional parts of ag, a focus on finance or technology and innovation, agriculture is a big, exciting field,” Debertin told the group. “At CHS, we are looking for people who say, ‘Give me the ball. I want to have a part in what’s next.’”

Semi tanker at processing plant 
Iowa State University students engaged with Heidi St. Clair and other CHS experts during the study trip.

The group left Inver Grove Heights in time to board a flight to Seattle. Their weekend in the Pacific Northwest included a stop at the TEMCO grain export terminal at Kalama, Wash., and the opportunity to board a Panamax vessel.

“We wanted to set sail to Asia to explore even more of the soybean supply chain,” says Martens. “Maybe another time.”

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