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Port of Brownsville receives $14.5m grant to expand ag exports

TAGS: Business

The Port of Brownsville in Texas is reclaiming its status as a major exporter of agricultural products after receiving a $14.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the efficiency and safety of its grain storage and loading facilities.

The grant, deriving from the DOT Maritime Administration (MARAD) Port Infrastructure Development Program, supports the development, expansion and upgrade of the port's 3 million bu. grain elevator operated by WestPlains LLC.

The project consists of fixed landside, rail and road improvements, as well as related planning and other development activities. Once completed, the improvements will create a new cost-efficient option for all grain producers from the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of Texas and the U.S. to export goods around the world via the Port of Brownsville.

"This grant demonstrates the federal government's confidence in the Port of Brownsville and its commitment to support all industries across the Rio Grande Valley," Brownsville Navigation district chairman John Reed said, while also thanking the support from Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), Reps. Filemon Vela (D., Texas) and Vicente Gonzalez (D., Texas), Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the Texas state delegation, Cameron County, Texas, leadership and other local public officials and businesses. "Their efforts were instrumental in accomplishing our goal to provide local farmers a direct access to worldwide markets."

Beyond its growing agricultural operations, the Port of Brownsville ships more steel to Mexico than any other U.S. port. The port also is a major conduit for windmill components for installation throughout the Southwest.

"I am pleased that the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded the Port of Brownsville over $14 million to support a project that will provide an efficient and safe export outlet for south Texas farmers," Vela said. "The Port of Brownsville is a major exporter of steel, aluminum and wind energy products in south Texas, and I look forward to seeing how the port will benefit from this grant to restore its business in agriculture."

WestPlains and the port entered into an agreement in 2016 to modernize and enhance the operational efficiency of the specialized dock, with the port investing $5 million in the project. The privately held company has already made significant investments in Phase 1 of its improvement strategy at the facility and plans to demonstrate further confidence with significantly larger investments in Phase 2 to maximize capacities of its Brownsville home. WestPlains currently handles more than 300,000 metric tons of grains, including yellow corn, dried distillers grain, sorghum, milo and sugar.

Through this investment and with the port's structural improvements to the adjacent specialized bulk cargo dock – and after a 13-year pause in grain exports at the port – the facility began sorghum exports to China in August. WestPlains received the Chairman's Award in 2018 in recognition of the port investments and contributions to the region's economic growth.

"WestPlains is very excited and grateful for receiving the port infrastructure grant from MARAD," WestPlains chairman and chief executive officer Amit Bhandari said. "We have a lot of demand from our customers to export sorghum, wheat, animal feed ingredients and other commodities. Even during COVID-19 times, making the best our current facility's limitations, we've already sold five ships full of U.S. grains for export. When we complete the buildout of the new loading infrastructure, we'll be growing this business many-fold, which will result in more jobs in Brownsville and a more competitive export channel for Texas farmers."

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