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The Mighty Mississippi has had its share of recent problems, but despite high waters it will still ship around 500 million tons of cargo this year. All of it - coal, corn, soybeans, chemicals, timber, iron - is headed to the Port of New Orleans, America's gateway to global markets.
I had a chance to visit the port last week as a guest of the Soybean Transportation Coalition, formed by the American Soybean Association, seven state soy organizations, and the United Soybean Board (
Jefferson's head would be spinning if he could see this place in action now. More than 6,000 ocean vessels annually move through New Orleans on the river. The port's general cargo volume has averaged 11.2 million tons annually. Today, about 80% of world trade is carried by sea.
Many of the officials we spoke to said there were no lasting effects from Hurricane Katrina three years ago. In fact, they said most facilities were back in business within a week. The main problem was a lack of labor — many of the workers at the port had been displaced by the hurricane and ended up not coming back to work.
While this year's floods caused some delays in unloading barges, work still goes on with little economic impact.
Did you know? What surprised me most is that the port is not just a water facility. A lot of cargo that ships out through the Gulf also comes into the port from rail lines and trucking.
"With the ability to access six class A railroads directly onto the terminals, Interstate 10, and the availability to barge containers or bulk loads into the port, we're able to move from small to large quantities of cargo in any shape or form,bCrLf explains Kris Calkins (left), Deputy Office Manager at Mediterranean Shipping Company, a private shipping firm focused on containerized transport.
"Be it in super sacks, bulk rail cars or bulk barges into containers, or bulk directly into vessels, the shippers are given different avenues in which to move their cargo,bCrLf notes Calkins. "One of the challenges that the port faces is how to move this from rail car or bulk barges and load into containers, or into break bulk vessels.
"This can be easily overcome. Now a days, anything is possible in the transportation industry.bCrLf
Those containers Calkins talks about (pictured behind him) have grown in popularity in recent years. That popularity is largely due to the trade imbalance between the
Infrastructure highlight The port is one of the best features of the
Weak basis is the tell-tale sign of a transport system growing more inefficient by the day.
That's one of the main concerns of the Soybean Transportation Coalition. As Executive Director Mike Steenhoek says, the goal of
Today we have higher rail costs, higher fuel costs for trucks, and higher barge rates. Ocean freight rates are through the roof. Will higher transport costs damage grain exports?
If infrastructure costs continue to skyrocket, we will be pricing ourselves out of business.
Tomorrow I'll pass along comments from the chairman of the
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