BALTIMORE, MD. — The effect on overall US agriculture trade is expected to be minor from the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge following the collision by a container ship, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

The bridge collapsed on March 26, killing six construction workers, after a container ship lost power and hit the bridge. All waterway vessel traffic was suspended indefinitely at the port.

The Port of Baltimore ranks 17th in terms of cargo throughput in the United States, processing more than 37 million short tons of combined import and export product in 2021.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said the port is responsible for moving 0.3% of US ag exports and 2.1% of imports. In 2023, the port exported 605,000 tonnes of agricultural products. Of that total, 415,678 tonnes were soybeans, or 0.9% of all US soybean exports.

Some of the nation’s largest poultry companies, including Mountaire Farms and Perdue Farms, are located in the region near the port. Following the bridge collapse Mountaire released a statement about the implications for the poultry business.

“Mountaire uses the Port of Baltimore for exports of poultry and grain and our operations will certainly be impacted by this situation,” the company said in a statement. “Our teams will be working hard to assess our options and make decisions on how to move product around the globe.” 

Perdue Farms provided the following statement to MEAT+POULTRY regarding the bridge collapse.

“Because of the scale and flexibility of our supply chain, we are able to mitigate any potential impact on our business operations in and around the state,” a company spokesperson said regarding the collapse.

Roll on/roll off (Ro/Ro) vehicles, which include farm and construction machinery, are common through the Port of Baltimore, the AFBF said. Since 2022, the volume of Ro/Ro vehicles has surpassed automobiles.

“The inability of farmers, domestically or internationally, to receive equipment they ordered could have a significant impact as spring planting season arrives,” the AFBF said.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers said the port is an important part of its industry’s ability to ship equipment, but it is too early to predict the impact.

On the import side, more than 1.59 million tonnes of agricultural products entered through the Port of Baltimore, the AFBF said. By quantity, over 25% of all US imported raw beet and cane sugar entered through Baltimore.

The AFBF noted that the port’s significance in providing access to international markets for businesses, including farmers, should not be minimized.

“Industries reliant on the port, such as sugar refineries and ag equipment manufacturers, appear to face more imminent challenges, while longer term supply chain disruptions may lead to increased prices and logistical hurdles for farmers awaiting inputs,” the AFBF said.

Nearby sugar refineries have assured customers they have six to eight weeks of raw sugar on hand before operations could potentially be impacted.