Closure of port in Maryland due to bridge collapse could impact farm machinery exports and imports.

Chris Torres, Editor, American Agriculturist

March 26, 2024

2 Min Read
Baltimore bridge collapsed on top of ship
MARCH 26 DISASTER: The steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Md., sits on top of the container ship Dali after the bridge collapsed due to the ship striking a pillar. JIM WATSON/Getty Images

The tragedy surrounding the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore continues to unfold.

Early Tuesday morning, a container ship plowed into one of the ship’s columns, sending the bridge’s steel superstructure into the cold Patapsco River below. Officials have stated that there is still a search-and-rescue effort ongoing and that they may be looking for up to seven people, but that number could change.

As a result, the Port of Baltimore, one of the Northeast’s busiest, is closed to shipping traffic until further notice, and it is likely that many ships will have to be diverted to neighboring ports up and down the East Coast. The website Marine Traffic shows at least a dozen ships with a destination of Baltimore waiting to get into port.

The impact on shipping traffic will no doubt be felt for weeks and months to come. For agriculture, the Port of Baltimore is the closest in proximity to the Midwest and is the largest U.S. port by volume for handling farm and construction machinery.

According to state data, the port handled a record 1.3 million tons of roll-on and roll-off farm and construction machinery in 2023. This includes tractors, combines, hay balers and more.

The Maryland state government website states the port’s private and public terminals handled 847,158 autos and light trucks in 2023, the most of any U.S. port for the 13th straight year.

The top five agricultural products that are imported and exported from the Port of Baltimore are:

  • sugar

  • soybeans

  • grain (corn and wheat)

  • coffee

  • grocery items

But it’s a relatively small player in this area, at least compared to much larger ports like New Orleans, on the mouth of the Mississippi River, which handled more than 40 million metric tons of soybeans in 2021, according to data from USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, wrote in an email this morning that while the port is not a significant port region for soybeans and grain, it is a significant resource for the broader economy. 

“It also underscores the reality that while our oceans are vast and expansive, the ports that serve as the origins and destinations for global commerce can be vulnerable, whether due to weather, accident or attack. Investing in, maintaining and securing these essential links in our national and global economy must remain a national priority,” he wrote.

About the Author(s)

Chris Torres

Editor, American Agriculturist

Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.

Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.

"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."

Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.

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