By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOT
The break bulk business is rapidly changing with some commodities like agri-products now being moved more frequently in containers. Officials at the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) are keeping a watchful eye on this business, as well as identifying other break bulk areas such as wind turbines, wines and spirits, forest products, and pipe related to LNG projects.
In the case of agri-products, multiple factors are driving a trend to use containers: the ability for shippers to segregate shipments into smaller increments based upon quality and other characteristics; simplified transport and ease of handling; equipment availability; and the emergence of new commodities.
The surge in production of ethanol and bio-fuels is particularly generating high-volume shipments of distiller’s grain, a co-product of the refining process. Exports are expected to approach 2 million tons in 2010, with double digit increases on the horizon.
Charles Regini, GPA Agri-bulk accounts executive, predicts that increasing ethanol production will continuously generate volumes that will far exceed domestic demand for distiller’s grain. “We also project bustling trade among specialty agri-products,” he says. “Furthermore, we believe containers will be used to supplement larger bulk shipments, allowing producers to fulfill orders more strategically.”
The business holds promise for GPA. Three plants are under construction in Georgia to produce this product. Sixteen are already in operation in the mid eastern United States. All are located in close enough to the Port of Savannah. The business would be good for the port. Since only 25 percent of this volume can be consumed domestically, the majority will be exported.
Consequently, a number of transfer operations have set up shop in Savannah for purposes of receiving agri-products in bulk and transloading them into containers. Among them are SMT Logistics, JIMCO Group and Global Commodities. They are being joined by CSX (Transflo) and Norfolk Southern.
In addition, John Wheeler, GPA director of Trade Development, reveals that in early January one of the biggest grain companies in the United States visited GPA officials. “They are looking for a site where they can rail in grain and agri-bulk products in hoppers,” he states.
The reasons they expressed interest in GPA, he says, is because it offers a wide host of container services.
“They want to set up these systems where hopper cars unload and blow agri- products into containers for export,” he explains. “Most empty containers are concentrated around ports, and it is easier to bring the product to the containers than vice versa. We are helping them identify potential service.”
GPA offers a wide host of advantages. The Ports of Savannah and Brunswick are accessible to 80 percent of the nation’s population, and offer unrivalled surface connectivity, high productivity, mode-specific terminals, and a seasoned staff.
“We have the advantage of having terminals in Savannah and Brunswick, separate from Savannah’s container terminal, dedicated to break bulk and roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) operations,” says Craig Kessler, GPA general manager, Break bulk, Warehouse & Crane Operations. “There aren’t many break bulk facilities, such as Savannah’s Ocean Terminal, that can accommodate bulky, oversize pieces.”
In addition, they offer shipside rail.
“Cranes with adequate reach and lift are essential,” says Wheeler. “Ample land must be available for staging consignments from multiple origins, sub-assembly, loading to rail or barge and forwarding to ultimate destination.”
Then there’s the final factor: the ability for a port to have a customer-centric break bulk team.
“To help shippers cobble together the optimum handling package, we assemble a planning team comprising beneficial cargo owners, truckers/railroads, stevedores, 3PL’s and regulatory agencies,” states Bill Jakubsen, GPA Trade Development sales manager. “To the mix, GPA adds its dedicated break bulk team (wh