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Baltimore bridge collapse creates question marks for ag industry

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Shipping disruptions and delays caused by the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, which fell after a container vessel collided with a support pillar on March 26, have many in the ag industry wondering what long-term effects will follow. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Baltimore’s port moves everything from soybeans, sugar and grains – such as corn and wheat – to forestry products and coffee. 

The port also moves $2 billion in chemicals annually and is ranked 11th in overall ag imports and second in sugar imports. 

“Before the disaster, Baltimore’s port had led the nation in the movement of roll-on, roll-off farm and construction machinery, tallying a record 1.3 million tons, worth $9 billion, in 2023,” notes Michigan Farmer Editor Jennifer Kiel in a March 30 Farm Progress article. “The port also ranks first for auto and light-truck imports, handling a record 850,000 vehicles last year.”

Sugar and soy industries optimistic 

According to Kiel, the Port of Baltimore exported 415,678 metric tons of soybeans in 2023, and raw sugar from cane is the port’s largest bulk import item. 

While the collapse of the bridge will certainly create some supply chain disruptions for these two industries, sugar and soy representatives are optimistic the impacts felt won’t be too significant. 

ASR Group, which owns the Domino Sugar refinery – boasting the second-highest sugar production capacity in the U.S., with 40 different sugar products – does not expect significant short-term impacts to sugar production at the plant.

“The Baltimore refinery has six to eight weeks of raw sugar supply on hand with a ship currently discharging at the dock and another which finished unloading on Monday,” says ASR Group in a statement on March 26. “Our network of production facilities and warehouses across the U.S. all currently have healthy inventories of finished products which can be utilized if necessary.” 

Soy industry experts also believe impact to their sector will be minor and remain regional. 

“The Port of Baltimore exported 5.2 million bushels of soybeans in containers in 2020, so it is a vital port for our industry,” says Julia Brown, director of communications for the Ohio Soybean Council. “However, Baltimore is not a major port for Ohio soybeans, which mostly leave the country through ports in Norfolk, New York and New Jersey.”

Soy Transportation Coalition Executive Director Mike Steenhoek agrees, noting disruptions caused by the bridge collapse in Baltimore won’t be nearly as significant as those caused by the Mississippi River being shut down. 

However, he also notes there is interconnectivity to everything, and as freight is rerouted to other ports, there may be traffic delays seen across the U.S.

Jim Byrum, ag policy consultant and former president of the Michigan Agribusiness Association, comments, “The quicker they can get a sea crane in there to move bridge pieces, the better. If they can get the center of the Patapsco River cleared where the water is deeper, it will allow the large container ships through. I think it will be reopened pretty darn quick.” 

Equipment manufacturers pivot

Kiel notes, according to John Schmeiser, North American Equipment Dealers Association chief operating officer, every major manufacturer uses the Baltimore port, including John Deere, Agco, both brands of CNH, Caterpillar and Massey Ferguson. 

He notes retailers are optimistic the short-term impacts will not be significant and the industry will find a way to pivot. 

“However, the longer it takes to find alternate ports and some efficiencies in working with these alternate ports – like trucking or rail to get equipment out – the more potential for negative impact,” he tells Farm Progress

“Our industry really thrives on stability – stability in commodity prices, stability in interest rates, stability in just-in-time delivery on equipment, stability of the parts supply and availability, stability in our economy, etc.,” he adds. “During the pandemic, a lot of instability was created. Looking back, I think our industry adjusted very well, but nobody was anticipating a return of instability on this grand scale so quickly.”

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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