By: Grant Cory, Agricultural Systems Management | Frankfort, OH
My name is Grant Cory. I’m currently a sophomore studying Agricultural Systems Management at The Ohio State University. In late February and early March, a small group of about 18 students from Ohio State’s Agricultural Systems Management (ASM) Club, along with our club’s advisor Dewey Mann, had the great privilege to travel to Texas to take part in the 2016 GEAPS Exchange. GEAPS stands for Grain Elevator And Processing Society. The annual exchange that GEAPS holds every year is a 5-6 events where companies associated with the grain industry come from around the country to show off their new products, technology, and services. It is essentially a place for the exchange of ideas where people in the grain industry and people interested in the grain industry can come to learn just how the grain industry in the United States actually works, and how it’s constantly growing and innovating.
The Agricultural Systems Management (ASM) Club usually attends this conference/exchange/expo every year, and every year it’s held in a new location. This year’s exchange was being held in Austin, TX. I felt very privileged to be a part of the group of ASM Club students that attended this year’s exchange because it was such a fun and educational trip that allowed me to learn about one of the most important industries in agriculture, and it gave me the opportunity to become closer to some of my fellow ASM students, something I feel like I haven’t been able to do during my time at Ohio State because of my busy college life.
Those of us going on the trip were mostly ASM students, but a few were actually Agribusiness students. Despite not majoring in ASM, they told us that they wanted to be involved in the club because they saw how its members were such a tight-knit agriculture community that constantly sought knowledge about the agricultural industry, and they wanted to be able to learn more about the industry alongside us.
We woke up early on Friday, February 26, to be at the airport in time for our flight, which left at about 6:30am. After a few flights and a transfer at the Atlanta airport, we eventually arrived in Houston at 12:20pm. The Texas weather greeted us warmly with a sunny 70°F day, about a 30-40° increase from Ohio’s weather. After getting off the plane, we rented three vans at the airport and began our Texas adventure. We were in Texas, so of course we couldn’t have an adventure without blasting some country music along the way. We were going to be in Texas for 4 days, and we had several things planned on our schedule.
The flat lands, palm trees, and building architecture gave the whole city a very open and western style to it. We drove to our hotel, dropped off our luggage, and went out to eat lunch at Whataburger. This was my first time at Whataburger, and I really enjoyed the food and the western culture of the restaurant.
After lunch, we drove to Galveston to visit an ADM port facility that brought in grain from around the country by train and loaded up the grain onto barges to be shipped around the world. I’ve been to grain elevators in Ohio, but their operations weren’t nearly as large. It was amazing to hear just how much grain this ADM facility brought in and distributed. We took a tour and learned about all of the systems and logistics that went into running the operations. This facility had at least 40 concrete grain bins and a complex series of conveyor belts running to the bins from the scales and the dryers, and from the bins to a few towers along the water that would then deposit the grain in barges. Sadly there was no barge at the port when we were there, so we didn’t get to see that process. Around the entire facility was also a complex system of rails that brought in and unloaded train cars of grain.
We headed back to Houston after the facility tour. In Houston, we spent the rest of our evening at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for the World Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, which was held at NRG Stadium. Thanks to a friend of Dewey’s, we got into the event for free. Additionally, we got free barbeque during the entire night! The food was absolutely delicious – the meat, sauce, beans, potatoes, and everything else. I guess one would hope the food would be delicious since it’s the world championship contest! There were also guest performance by popular Texas country/western artists like Jon Wolfe Band and Kevin Fowler. Kevin Fowler had it right when he said Texas isn’t just a state, it’s its own country. I couldn’t agree with him more. The weather, the landscape, the lifestyle, and even the dress of the Texans were just so different from what we’re used to in Ohio. Everything kind of fell in-between the lines of what I had formed in my mind as the typical Texas stereotype from what I’ve learned about the state through typical stories of Texas on TV, but at the same time, it went beyond and became even better than the stereotype. Texas truly did have its own culture, and being here eating delicious Texas barbeque and listening to famous Texan singers and bands made me feel so welcomed by this culture. After that barbeque, we headed back to the hotel and went to bed.
The next day, we had a breakfast of Texas-shaped waffles and eggs and sausage with salsa. Then we packed our bags, checked out of the hotel, and drove to a Cargill port facility next to a river that drained into the Gulf of Mexico. This facility was larger that the ADM facility we visited yesterday: it had more grain bins and seemed to have a larger train car unloading capacity. We learned some similar things that we had learned at the ADM facility, but we also learned several other new important things such as how the operations here were a part of the larger scale of Cargill’s operations. It also meant a lot to have an Ohio State ASM Club alumnus give us a tour of the Cargill facility. That’s right, we went all the way out to Texas and got to tour this facility because we had an alumnus working there. It was great hearing his story about getting involved in an internship with Cargill and then coming back to work for them.
After the Cargill tour, we went headed straight to Austin in our three vans. Each van had its own adventure during the 2-hour ride. Our van stopped by a restaurant called Nathan’s BBQ and had a delicious barbeque meal. Texas has without a doubt the best barbeque in the world, and Nathan’s BBQ was supporting evidence. We got to Austin at around 3:00-4:00pm and spent the afternoon and evening just taking it easy after a busy day of tours and drives. A few members went to the University of Texas campus to walk around and visit the campus. Either way, we all had a great time. We went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, followed by card games and some people taking a night tour of the city, then we were off to bed.
The next morning we got up fairly early to get dressed in our business casual ASM attire, eat breakfast, and get packed and checked out. We had to be at the downtown convention center at 9:30am for a student day seminar at the GEAPS Expo.
During this seminar, we, along with students from Kansas State University and one student from Texas A&M, gathered together in a room to learn more about GEAPS. The president of GEAPS, who is also an OSU alumnus, even took the time out of his day to talk to us about how he became president of GEAPS, a role he never thought of himself taking during the years leading up to him getting his position. We were also given the opportunity to have a table session where we could go around to different tables and talk with people currently working in different agricultural industries, such as the grain industry, pest management, and logistics. This table conversation portion of the seminar was a favorite for our students because it gave us the opportunity to learn about the importance of each industry and hear personal stories about how these people first got involved in these industries (Many of the industry workers actually graduated from Kansas State University). We wish we could’ve had more time to hear about these industries through the experiences of these employees, but sadly the seminar only lasted 2 hours.
After the seminar, we went downstairs to have lunch and look around the main expo floor. There were at least 150 companies there from different parts of the country showcasing new products and practices that help innovate the grain industry. I feel like I’ve never had so much knowledge being thrown into my face at one time. I wanted to go around to each booth and learn about each company’s role in the grain industry and about their new innovations, but we only had four hours, so I knew I would have to pick and choose. At first we all started off together, going around to the booths of the companies that were very generous in helping to sponsor our trip to Texas to allow us to take part in this expo. After that, we were on our own. I have a very limited knowledge of the grain industry, so having the opportunity to walk around and learn about it firsthand like this made the expo such a memorable learning opportunity for me.
After the expo, we drove for two hours all the way back to Houston. My van was the last one to get back, but then again we also found a really awesome place to get some barbeque for dinner.
Once everybody was back at the hotel that we stayed in during our first night in Texas, and everybody had settled into their rooms, we gathered in the lobby to have a serious discussion about the Agricultural Systems Management program at Ohio State. There has been much discussion over the years about our program and what could be done to improve it. Many ideas have been thrown in to add classes, take away classes, add specializations to our major, etc. Two of our graduating seniors in the ASM program are doing capstone projects on what can be done to improve the ASM program, so our plan was to set aside a time during our trip so that we could all talk about what exactly we want the ASM program to be, and how we can get it there. Everybody person’s opinions were included, regardless of whether or not they were actually in our major. Our conversation about the program lasted about 2 – 2 ½ hours, and it was probably the most productive conversation I’ve ever been a part of in my entire life. It made me so happy to see this group of students (and our advisor) sit around and have a conversation about something that we are so passionate about. I’m so glad to be a part of a group that’s so dedicated to improving something that they believe needs fixing.
After our meeting, a group of us got together to play a version of euchre we learned last night called Crazy Euchre, then we went to bed.
The next morning, we got packed, checked out, and headed to the airport to fly back to Columbus. We were all really sad to leave the warm weather and barbeque that we had enjoyed so much in Texas, but in reality, we enjoyed so much more than that, especially me. This trip gave me the opportunity to learn more about the grain industry, an industry of agriculture that I know very little about, and an industry that is very essential in the field of agriculture today. This trip also let me get to know my fellow ASM students a little bit better, and I feel that as a result I’ve come to know our major as a whole a little bit better as well. I was also able to come to Texas to experience their unique culture because they really do have a culture so much different than any other state in the United States – full of good food, good weather (at least while we were there), good music, and good times. I feel like the Texas culture is all about experience life and not just going through the motions, and I feel like we really got the chance to experience life while there.
I look forward to going with the ASM Club to next year’s GEAPS Exchange in Kansas City, Missouri. If you get the chance, you should definitely come with us! It will be an experience well worth your time.