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Deepening Savannah port is vital to Georgia agriculture
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When 1 in 8 U.S. export containers leave the Port of Savannah each year, it takes a lot of coordination to keep everything going smoothly. Recently, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston met with Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to discuss logistics at the port.

Agriculture is the largest industry in Georgia, employing 1 in 7 Georgians. The deepening of the port is critical for the continued export of ag commodities like poultry and timber.

“Agriculture is the backbone of Georgia’s economy and our state’s largest industry,” Kingston said. “Maintaining a safe, abundant and healthy food supply will help promote our state’s future prosperity and maintain those jobs.”

Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz touted the GPA’s record on food exports — some 40 percent of America’s poultry exports move through the Port of Savannah — and on the import of commodities such as sweet onions from South America, which keep Georgia farm workers busy with packing and shipping during the offseason.

“The Georgia Ports Authority is working with our federal partners at the Food and Drug Administration to ensure the security and efficiency of the supply chain in order to provide better service for our customers and safe food for the American public,” said Foltz.

Foltz also noted the broad impact of Georgia’s ports in other areas of the state’s varied agricultural industry.

“In addition to poultry and other important farm produce sectors, Georgia’s deepwater ports provide a vital gateway to global trade for the state’s forest products, from wood pulp and paper to renewable fuels like wood pellets that offset the use of coal in energy production,” Foltz said.

GPA Board Chairman Alec Poitevint said Georgia ports’ role in global trade has a major impact on the nation’s economy.

“As the fourth-busiest container port in the country, the Port of Savannah serves approximately 21,000 companies in all 50 states, over 75 percent of which are headquartered outside of Georgia,” Poitevint said. “In fact, 1 out of every 8 of our nation’s export containers departed from Savannah in fiscal year 2011, and trade in export commodities means new jobs for our entire region.”

Kingston said deepening the Savannah River channel is a necessary part of U.S. preparations for a new, larger class of container ships. While the harbor regularly handles these larger vessels via the Suez Canal, the ships cannot load to their capacity, or must time their arrivals and departures with the tides. In 2014, the Panama Canal expansion will be completed, opening busy Pacific routes to ships with drafts as deep as 50 feet.

The port deepening will allow greater speed and flexibility in serving these new ships, expected to arrive in greater numbers after 2014.

“The expanded canal will have a transformative effect on Panama, and I know that completing the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project can have the same impact on our state, our region and the country as a whole,” Kingston said.

Source: The Maritime Executive, www.maritime-executive.com

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears biweekly on Thursday’s Business page and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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