Supplying pasta factories with agricultural transports

15. 02. 2024

Agricultural products are an essential part of our daily diet. Yet few people understand how they get from the fields to our shopping trolleys. The answer: reliable and, above all, flexible logistics solutions, because no other industry is as dependent on the weather as the agricultural market. Logistics experts Leo Leichtfried and Stevan Bosanac explain what this market is all about, where the most important routes run and how the produce is ultimately turned into pasta, vodka or animal feed.

Agriculture is not just their job, it’s their passion: Leo Leichtfried has been working in the world of railway logistics for ten years now and is Rail Cargo Group’s (RCG) segment manager for agricultural transports. He is responsible for the entire logistics chain: sales, procurement and handling. His team of specialists looks after international customers across Europe, including mills, animal feed manufacturers and pasta producers. One of them is sales expert Stevan Bosanac. Leo and Stevan agree that their job is challenging, varied and offers a new opportunity every day.

Can you tell us what you find so special about working with agricultural products?

Leo: Agricultural produce is a commodity in a volatile global market. This means that we have to maximise flexibility in our work. If corn prices change in Brazil, this has a direct impact on the European market and therefore on our transport operations. The routes are actually constantly changing. It is the weather, over which we have no influence, and the current market price on the international exchanges that determine where agricultural products are cheap or expensive. We don’t have typical regular routes from A to B like other industries.

Stevan: In other sectors, there are often fixed journey times and timetables. In contrast, we look for new solutions for our customers every day. We implement these solutions with our 4,000 bulk wagons, which are distributed throughout Europe. They always have to be loaded and moved accordingly – and always in the most strategically expedient way for our customers. Our work is never dull because every day brings something new.

Bulk Wagon

Are there nevertheless some transport routes that are more heavily used than others?

Leo: We transport a lot to Italy, for example, to the big pasta producers, retailers and animal feed manufacturers. We also organise transports close to the French Alps in Italy, where alcohol is extracted from the grain we transport there. This in turn is transported to Scotland, among other places, to produce whiskey. Vodka and gin are also made from it. But it’s not just alcohol: everyone is familiar with the well-known brand of sweets with the little chewy, colourful bears. The fructose for making those also comes from the grain we transport. We also transport sugar beet on a large scale. This is then used to produce traditional granulated sugar for baking cakes. That’s the best thing about it: we all come into contact with the end products of our work in one way or another.

I have heard that citric acid is also produced from corn, and not, as many people think, from lemons. That’s also found in many foods.

Stevan: That’s right, we transport corn to a large manufacturer in Lower Austria, among others, which uses it to produce citric acid. This is used in the food industry as an antioxidant, but primarily as an acidifier. It can be found in almost every tinned food, for instance in tomato sauces for spaghetti dishes.

Speaking of spaghetti – you’ve already mentioned that Italy is a frequent destination when it comes to making spaghetti, fusilli and penne, among other things. What other destinations or transport flows are there?

Leo: We serve a total of three major transport corridors. Italy has already been mentioned. Grain is transported there from Hungary, Romania or Ukraine. We also organise a lot of transports from Ukraine to the large mills in Germany. And the third major strand is sugar beet, which we transport to local sugar factories, mainly in Austria and Hungary. In the last sugar beet season, as a matter of fact, we transported more than 29,000 wagons in Austria alone and moved almost 1.5 million tonnes – that is almost record-breaking.

Are grain transports from Ukraine still a major issue?

Leo: Absolutely. Ukraine used to export most of its grain through its ports (e.g. Odessa). Then the war began, and suddenly overland transport played a much more important role. This was particularly challenging initially, as there were no resources and capacities available anywhere in Europe for these enormous additional volumes. But I have to say that everyone involved – growers, producers, shippers and carriers – did their homework very well and quickly. It is still challenging, of course, particularly because of the broad gauge railways in Ukraine. Europe has standard gauge, which means that the wagons have to be reloaded at the border, which in turn means that the European and Ukrainian wagons have to meet at the border within a relatively short window. Time management is the be-all and end-all. On top of that, this is also an extremely political issue.

What role does flexibility play in this context in particular?

Stevan: A decisive one – not only for transports from Ukraine, but in the agricultural market in general. We have invested in 4,000 bulk wagons so that we can react as flexibly as possible to new developments in the agricultural market for our customers. The wagons are all in use and are scattered all over Europe. This is a major advantage that we have over our competitors. With such a fleet, and thanks to our own carrier and in-house traction services, we are a reliable partner for business and can respond with maximum flexibility to the needs of our customers, which can often change at a moment’s notice.

Leo: And that puts us on the right track: our business is an “all-in business” – in other words, we offer transports of agricultural goods including the necessary wagons. We started renewing our wagon pool step by step several years ago. To date, we have managed to integrate around 1,000 newly built wagons. This is something we have also noticed in our turnover figures. The RCG’s Agriculture segment grew by more than 15 % from 2022 to 2023. This shows us that we are performing well. We also receive this confirmation from our customers on a daily basis. That’s what makes this job so enjoyable for us.

At a glance

  • International agricultural logistics with special equipment solutions
  • Compliance with the strictest legal requirements and quality standards stipulated by the food and animal feed industries
  • € 140 million turnover per year (2022)
  • 7.1 million tons of transported grain in 2022, including 1.3 million tons from Ukraine
  • Approx. 20 sales employees

Are you interested in agricultural transports? Please feel free to contact us directly here.