Agriculture and transportation face similar challenges across the country


By Richard Guebert Jr.

U.S. farmers continue to see thinner margins after three years of COVID-19 pandemic-induced shipping delays and supply chain disruptions. High fuel prices caused in part by the war in Ukraine only squeezed margins.

On a recent trip to Savannah, Georgia, several executives from the Illinois Farm Bureau toured the shipping terminals of the nation’s third-busiest port to learn about key bottlenecks affecting the transportation industry. We also visited farmers in the area and talked about the challenges they face.

The Georgia Ports Authority operates the nation’s largest single-terminal container facility in Savannah. Containerized cargo from China and other parts of Asia moves through the port’s deepwater terminals, where shipments are distributed by rail and truck to the south, midwest and northeast of the country.

It is estimated that nearly 45% of the US population can be served by rail from the Port of Savannah, but this requires that facilities in the area operate at full capacity.

No single solution will solve the many obstacles facing American farmers.

We met with GPA staff to tour Garden City Terminal and Ocean Terminal to find out how a backlog of materials has impacted transportation to and from the port.

As at many U.S. ports, shortages of truck drivers and chassis (the basic chassis of a motor vehicle), as well as general labor and warehouse shortages, have dampened opportunities for growth for the Savannah site.

To ease some of the growing pressures on the transportation sector, GPA is investing $4.5 billion to increase port capacity by a third. New warehouses are also being built within 30 miles of the dispatch center to create a resting place for materials waiting to be trucked to other locations.

Of the 10.7 million people who live in Georgia, nearly 60% live in the Atlanta metro area. To support urban communities, new warehouse developments continue to take farmland out of production.

Pete Waller, owner and operator of Ottawa Farms in Bloomingdale, Georgia, invites visitors to his agritourism operation each year to pick blueberries, strawberries and blackberries. He said his farm is different today than it was when it started in 1870, largely because of surrounding development.

Waller has already sold some of his land for a warehouse and has pledged to sell more for additional warehouses in the future. He owns one of two remaining farms in Chatham County, which is home to Savannah.

Just like in Georgia, we see an urban-rural divide here in Illinois.

While infrastructure investments are important, our organization also aims to protect the rights of landowners and the preservation of farmland for future generations. This trip was an opportunity for Farm Bureau member leaders to see both sides of the issues surrounding agricultural trade in the United States.

No one solution will work to solve the many obstacles that American farmers face, but it’s helpful to have these conversations with people in every state.

Growth creates new challenges, but the hope is that a balanced approach can move the agriculture and transportation industries forward.

Richard Guebert Jr is president of Illinois Agricultural Bureau. This column was originally published by Illinois FB and is republished with permission.


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