In Wake of Key Bridge Collapse, Spanberger Urges USDA to Support Farmers & Producers Impacted by Disruptions at Port of Baltimore

Apr 08, 2024
Agriculture
Press

The Port of Baltimore is the Largest Port by Volume for Handling Farm and Construction Equipment, Handles Billions of Dollars in Agricultural Imports & Exports Each Year

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger — the only Virginian on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee — urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take proactive steps to address supply chain disruptions caused by the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland.

The tragic collapse of the Key Bridge on March 26, 2024 could have a significant impact on domestic trade, international trade, and farmers, producers, and growers in Virginia and across the country. The Port of Baltimore is the largest port by volume for handling farm and construction equipment like tractors, combines, and hay balers. In 2023, the Port moved a record 1.3 million tons of roll on/roll off farm and construction machinery. The Port also handles billions of dollars in agricultural imports and exports — like sugar, soybeans, grains, coffee, and grocery items — each year and is the largest entry point for wet and dry fertilizer in the nation.

In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Spanberger underscored the vital role of the Port of Baltimore and emphasized the impacts the Key Bridge collapse has on transportation routes, agricultural markets, and the operations of key terminals at the Port. The Congresswoman also urged USDA to recognize the wide-ranging impacts of this incident and provide support to producers to mitigate the effects of supply chain disruptions. Additionally, Spanberger encouraged the department to communicate with Congress about the need for congressional action.

“As the wreckage of the collapsed bridge obstructs the movement of ships to and from Port terminals, I am concerned about the supply chain impacts. For example, the Port’s significant role in handling Ro/Ro vehicles, particularly during this time of year, is of paramount importance to farmers. These vehicles transport essential agricultural equipment and machinery that is vital for operations, such as spring planting,” said Spanberger. “Disruptions in the availability of these vehicles could create uncertainty for farmers, delay planting and cultivation activities, and ultimately impact food prices. At a time when Americans continue to express concerns about food costs at the grocery store, the federal government should exercise all tools necessary to avoid rising costs resulting from this crisis.”

Spanberger continued, “I urge USDA to recognize the far-reaching implications of the bridge collapse on agricultural markets and to take proactive steps to address potential disruptions. Specifically, I request that USDA communicate with producers about the impact of the bridge collapse on their operations and connect them with existing resources that could help mitigate the effects of supply chain disruptions. By facilitating access to support services and information, USDA can play a crucial role in assisting affected agricultural businesses in navigating this crisis and sustaining their operations. I also encourage USDA to communicate with Congress on whether congressional action is necessary to address the challenges this crisis poses for the agriculture sector.”

Click here to read her full letter, and the full letter text is below.

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

As our nation continues to reckon with the catastrophic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and mourn the tragic deaths of six construction workers, I write to urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take proactive steps to evaluate and assess how potential supply chain disruptions may impact farmers and producers who have long depended on the Port of Baltimore as a transit point for their needed farm inputs and supplies and their outbound products. As local, state, and federal entities collaborate on cleanup and rebuilding efforts, I ask that USDA engage proactively to assess how they might help support farmers in the event of potential supply chain disruptions.

The Port of Baltimore plays a vital role for farmers, producers, and growers across the country and the Commonwealth of Virginia. It serves as the largest port by volume for handling farm and construction equipment, handles billions of dollars in agricultural imports and exports each year, and is the largest entry point for wet and dry fertilizer in the nation. Last year, the Port handled a record 1.3 million tons of roll on and roll off (Ro/Ro) farm machinery including tractors, combines, hay balers, and more. In 2021 alone, the Port’s terminals facilitated the processing of more than 37 million tons of combined import and export products.

As the wreckage of the collapsed bridge obstructs the movement of ships to and from Port terminals, I am concerned about the supply chain impacts. For example, the Port’s significant role in handling Ro/Ro vehicles, particularly during this time of year, is of paramount importance to farmers. These vehicles transport essential agricultural equipment and machinery that is vital for operations, such as spring planting.

Disruptions in the availability of these vehicles could create uncertainty for farmers, delay planting and cultivation activities, and ultimately impact food prices. At a time when Americans continue to express concerns about food costs at the grocery store, the federal government should exercise all tools necessary to avoid rising costs resulting from this crisis.

I understand that the timing of the Port’s reopening is a crucial factor in the severity of these supply chain impacts, and I am grateful that the Ports of Virginia, New York, and New Jersey are stepping in to help alleviate the supply chain impacts. The Port of Virginia, in particular, stands ready to provide assistance during this challenging time. This aid underscores the collaborative effort needed to address this crisis effectively given the Port of Baltimore’s pivotal role in supporting the agricultural industry. However, I have serious concerns about the potential implications for farmers and producers across the country.

I urge USDA to recognize the far-reaching implications of the bridge collapse on agricultural markets and to take proactive steps to address potential disruptions. Specifically, I request that USDA communicate with producers about the impact of the bridge collapse on their operations and connect them with existing resources that could help mitigate the effects of supply chain disruptions. By facilitating access to support services and information, USDA can play a crucial role in assisting affected agricultural businesses in navigating this crisis and sustaining their operations. I also encourage USDA to communicate with Congress on whether congressional action is necessary to address the challenges this crisis poses for the agriculture sector.

Thank you for your consideration and prompt action on this urgent issue. Should you require further information or assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office.

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