By Chris Dupin
Total Terminals International has proposed to build a special 10 acre facility within its 385 acre terminal at Pier T in the Southern California port of Long Beach to handle exports of grain and related products, such as distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) which is a byproduct of ethanol production used as animal feed.
While more recent statistics were not available at press time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said for much of 2011 shipments of grain in containers ran ahead of the amounts shipped in recent years.
For example, in September, about 47,000 TEUs of grain were exported from U.S. ports to Asia, 146 percent more than in September 2010 and 85 percent more than the three-year average for the month. Similarly in August, about 44,000 TEUs of grain were exported to Asia, 154 percent ahead of August 2010 and up 71 percent from the three-year average.
Bruce Abbe, executive director of the Midwest Shippers Association, said exports of containerized grain, DDGS, and soybeans are gaining in popularity because smaller lots are easier to handle in some developing countries, and entrepreneurial importers also find it easier to finance smaller grain purchases.
He also said some buyers feel they can get a more consistent, high quality product by buying containerized lots as opposed to traditional bulk.
USDA noted in 2010 that containers were used to transport 5 percent of total U.S. oceangoing grain exports, and 7 percent of U.S. grain exports to Asia. Asia is the top destination for U.S. containerized grain exports, accounting for 94 percent in 2010, the department said.
In August and September, the leading destinations in Asia for containers of U.S. grain were China, Taiwan, and Indonesia.
The new Total Terminals facility would be capable of exporting 750,000 to 1.5 million tons of grain, or about 56,000 to 112,000 TEUs a year, using existing rail and container shipping facilities.
Long Beach plans to hold a public hearing on Jan. 11 to solicit comments on the facility’s draft environmental statement and will accept written comments through Jan. 23.
The proposed grain transloading facility is designed to serve up to four 11,000 ton unit trains per week, traveling to and from the site on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.
Empty containers on chassis at the TTI container yard would be pre-staged at the grain facility at container stalls prior to loading.
After inspection and cleaning, 40-foot containers would be transported via yard tractors to the loading building. A cardboard bulkhead would be placed at the end of each container and an automatic conveyor would fill the container with about 26 tons of grain or DDGS. Once placed onto chassis, the containers would either be transported to the on-site grain facility storage yard for later retrieval or transported directly to the TTI container yard.
The Long Beach project is just one of many targeting the growth in containerized grain at ports around the country.
Last year, Union Pacific Railroad announced it would open a facility for transloading entire trains of grain, soybeans or DDGS into containers at an existing terminal in Yermo, Calif., about 160 miles from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Thomas L. Lange, a spokesman for UP, said in December that improvements allowing the terminal to load grain into containers at Yermo are complete and the railroad plans to begin offering a plant-to-port grain service at the site during the first quarter of 2012.
These operations offer another alternative to transload facilities in the Midwest as well as those highly established facilities in the Seattle-Tacoma area, run by firms such as Tacoma Transload, McMillan-Piper, and Seattle Bulk Shipping.
Other ports throughout the country are also developing transload facilities for agriculture products. James Newsome, chief executive officer for the South Carolina Ports Authority, said recently there were “way too many empty containers being exported from Charleston today, these need to be filled with cargo. We will, in partnership with private companies, develop a sophisticated network of transloading facilities capable of supporting this need.”
In 2011, both JIMCO Group and Soular Co. opened bulk transload facilities in Charleston.