One might be tempted to describe the job of Tyson Foods Inc.’s Perry Bourne as poultry in motion.
As Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based director of international transportation and rail operations for Springdale, Ark.-headquartered Tyson, Bourne is charged with maintaining the flow of poultry, beef, pork and value-added branded items for the second-largest U.S. exporter of temperature-controlled proteins in a global marketplace spanning more than 100 countries. Bourne also is active with the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, including recently testifying on Capitol Hill on the impending verified gross weight mandate, and finds time to promote type 1 diabetes research, collect antique firearms and even go on an African safari.
In an interview with the American Journal of Transportation, Bourne discusses addressing industry challenges and offers a glimpse into his personal passions.
What specific challenges do you face in shipment of temperature-controlled cargos, and how are you making such transport safer and more efficient?
Certainly, the move of temperature-controlled cargo has its own set of unique opportunities.
In our business, we’ve got a full complement of protein products – the beef, pork, poultry and, now more than ever, our branded products, with the  acquisition of The Hillshire Brands Co.
For export, it’s a mix of frozen and chilled. For the domestic, the majority is chilled and has to be shipped in a pretty tight range, because, as we’re all concerned with food safety, a couple of the biggest enemies of any perishable product are temperature abuse, as well as transit time and distance traveled.
It’s very crucial that we contract with carriers that have good equipment, current models, and good maintenance, because we as a company are very conscious of getting our products to market in very good condition. Food safety is a very big issue for us. It’s just the right thing to do.
We have to deal with a wide range of ambient temperatures, from well below zero to 100 degrees-plus, and certainly refrigerated trucking here in the U.S. is a bit challenging in trying to deal with all those ambient areas. Meat freezes at 28 degrees Fahrenheit, so we’re shipping a tight range, in the 30 degrees Fahrenheit range, as we want to maintain that shelf life for our customers.
What supply chain changes do you see occurring as a result of increasing corn production in the Midwest and U.S. initiatives to heighten exports of agricultural products, including proteins?
We’re in a much better situation here in 2016 and hopefully beyond with the improvement in corn production and the availability of cash grain crops throughout the country. It really plays a vital role in the producers raising the livestock, as well as the birds. I think corn is the No. 1 cost for poultry farmers, so it’s a crucial piece.
Farmers can’t raise the animals and we can’t get them to the levels that we need without ample reasonably priced supplies of grain. Certainly, $8-a-bushel corn that we experienced a few years ago was really devastating for the marketplace. The loss through drought conditions was a huge problem for farmers and ranchers.
We’ve had back-to-back good years. Hopefully, we’ll see that continue.
The better availability and cheaper corn prices [now $3.50 to $4 per bushel] allow a more reasonably priced finished product protein to enter the market and for more people to be able to afford it, and, most importantly, as we try to export that product overseas, that we’re able to compete in the marketplace, where we’re in competition with countries like Brazil and Australia.
With cheaper inputs that allow us to be more competitive with that commodity priced product in the world marketplace, we’re all better off – farmers, ranchers, the ag community and consumers.
How are you engaged with the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, and what are your key objectives?
Tyson has been involved with AgTC for quite a few years. We got involved taking an active role in initiatives when there was a ship capacity problem on the West Coast. We were involved in some hearings in Washington with AgTC and the FMC [Federal Maritime Commission], and it’s grown from there.
Most recently, I’ve been involved with AgTC over this SOLAS – Safety of Life at Sea – issue with shippers required to provide a verified gross mass on all containers. It’s not a very complicated issue, but it’s surprising how much time and effort it has consumed in the last six months in trying to get shippers and carriers to come together and come up with a reasonable solution before the July 1 implementation date.
The SOLAS VGM resolution seeks a very understandable goal to improve safety of life at sea by making sure that shippers worldwide are communicating effectively and accurately what they’re shipping in containers.
That’s been a responsibility of shippers for years, and certainly we support that as a company and as AgTC, but it’s kind of gotten a little convoluted from a perspective of shippers also being required to also include in that verified gross mass the empty asset weight of the steel box that we load, which is information we don’t have.
I’ve been involved with the AgTC working group that is trying to come up with some workable solution so we can get on with life.
The sad part is I’m not aware of any U.S. exporter that doesn’t already supply the intended information, which is accurately telling the carrier what you put in the container. That’s a very reasonable thing. That’s a requirement as far as I’m concerned.
We, as a company at Tyson, are very, very concerned about safety. That’s a crucial part of our culture. We’re very concerned about our own team members’ safety at work and can understand and support the activity that ocean carriers are concerned about with shoreside personnel as well as anything that might happen to a vessel.
But it’s difficult to understand how who provides the weight of the container itself – an empty-asset steel box – how that is going to make a difference on whether a ship is going to break apart or not at sea. It just seems to be much ado about nothing.
I appeared [April 20] before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee [on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security] to discuss the impact we believe the SOLAS regulation will have in further disrupting U.S. exports and hurting the American economy. [Bourne’s testimony may be found online by following the bit.ly/BourneTestimony Web shortcut.]
Having worked at Tyson for more than a third of a century, have you ever thought what it might be like to be working for some other company?
In fact, I have worked for three major companies.
I started my career right out of school at Indiana [University], where I received my undergraduate degree in transportation [in 1973]. I worked for Deere & Co. in Moline, Ill., for about 6 1/2 years and then moved back to my home state of Indiana and worked for Eli Lilly & Co., the pharmaceutical company, and then an opening came here [in 1982] for an international manager of logistics, and the rest is history.
How have you been involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and what other outside interests do you have?
Our son, Andrew, became a type 1 diabetic when he was in fifth or sixth grade. He’s now 36 and a physician. It’s a pretty frightening experience for parents to go through when their kid is having to take shots and check their blood multiple times a day. But there is life at the end of the tunnel. It’s a difficult disease to deal with, but, through organizations like JDRF and American Diabetes Association, a big effort is made to try to explain the disease and try to help patients deal with it. JDRF’s primary focus is in research for a cure.
My involvement as a parent with JDRF was in activities such as fundraisers. My company, Tyson, was involved in a walk we had here in the Siouxland area back in about 2002. Unfortunately, we no longer have the walk here in Sioux City anymore, but, for four or five years, I was the board president of JDRF here in Siouxland, with a lot of people working very hard to raise funds for the research that’s so desperately needed to try to keep young people from having to go through that throughout their lives.
Otherwise, I enjoy doing a lot of things, including collecting antique firearms. I enjoy shooting and hunting and outdoor activities, like boating.
I also just had the opportunity of going to South Africa on a hunting safari – a lifelong dream that has been on my bucket list.
As they say: Safari, so goodie!