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Maryland Bridge Collapse Could Affect Ag

NBC News’ Rob Wile and Shannon Pettypiece reported Tuesday that “customers from the East Coast to the Midwest who were expecting goods shipped in via the Port of Baltimore could see significant cost increases as a result of Tuesday’s collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore” that has blocked access for ships to the port.

“Baltimore is the largest entry point in the U.S. for large agriculture and construction equipment like tractors, farming combines, forklifts, bulldozers and heavy-duty trucks that are bound for the Midwest, according to DAT Freight and Analytics, a freight-exchange service,” Wile and Pettypiece wrote. “Any disruption to agriculture and construction equipment shipments would come at a particularly bad time as Midwest farmers have begun to plant this year’s crops, while construction picks up in colder climates as the ground begins to thaw, said Dean Croke, principal analyst with DAT.”

Collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Courtesy of the NTSB.

Lancaster Farming’s Philip Gruber reported Tuesday that while there could be a disruption moving forward for farm machinery, “dealerships are well stocked these days, with manufacturers having overcome the pandemic’s supply chain problems,” Gruber reported. “As a result, the port blockage may have little effect on equipment inventory in the short term. But the longer it takes for Baltimore to recover, the greater the risk that inventories will draw down and prices will rise.”

“’You don’t replace a bridge overnight,’ John Schmeiser, chief operating officer of the North American Equipment Dealers Association said. ‘This is something that takes months, if not years, to replace and to build.'”

Ag Commodities Likely Not as Affected

AgWeb’s Cheyenne Kramer reported Tuesday that, while the port closure could affect farm machinery shipments, there likely won’t be as much disruption for shipments of U.S. agriculture commodities.

“'[The Port of Baltimore] doesn’t accommodate a lot in terms of agricultural exports,’ Mike Steenhoek, executive director at the Soy Transportation Coalition, says,” according to Kramer. “’Sugar would be No. 1, then soybeans No. 2, grain products including corn and wheat are No. 3 and then coffee and grocery items.’”

“According to Steenhoek, the Port of Baltimore exports around 200,000 metric tons of soybeans,” Kramer wrote. “In comparison, the Mississippi Gulf near New Orleans is the No. 1 export region for soybeans and exports 35 million metric tons.”

Reuters’ reported Tuesday that “imports of agricultural products totaled 3 million tonnes last year, including 1.2 million of sugar and salt, as well as gypsum, fertilisers and forest products, according to Ishan Bhanu, lead agricultural commodities analyst at Kpler. U.S. sugar company ASR Group, which operates a refinery near the center of Baltimore, said it does not expect short-term impacts to its operations.”
Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore, Maryland. Courtesy of FBI Baltimore.
Response and Recovery
Progressive Farmer’s Mary Kennedy reported Tuesday that “President Joe Biden spoke on the bridge collapse Tuesday afternoon, saying the federal government will send all the resources needed by the city and state. ‘It’s my intention that federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge,’ he said, adding that he expects Congress to support the effort.”
In addition, Maryland Governor Wes Moore said in a press release Tuesday that “I have declared a State of Emergency here in Maryland and we are working with an interagency team to quickly deploy federal resources from the Biden Administration.”
“The Port of Baltimore said it remained open Tuesday, with trucks still being processed at the marine terminals,” Gruber reported. “But port leaders did not know how long boat traffic would be suspended.”
Transportation routes in and near the port of Baltimore. Courtesy of the Congressional Research Service.

Ryan Hanrahan is the farm policy news editor and social media director for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked in local news, primarily as an agriculture journalist in the American West. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri (B.S. Science & Agricultural Journalism).

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