MANATEE -- Port Manatee will be handling 150,000 tons or more of corn imported from Brazil for animals that have been affected by the extreme U.S. drought in the Midwest and Southeast, a port official said Tuesday.
"Port Manatee is going to be front and center, with a significant amount of volume of imports of animal feed," said Carlos Buqueras, the port's executive director, during a meeting of the Manatee County Port Authority.
Buqueras said he has already arranged for shipment of about 150,000 tons, and is expecting to firm up another deal to handle perhaps another 500,000 tons or more.
"This is rather immediate because the drought has impacted farms in a very direct and immediate fashion," Buqueras said, noting that the alternative could be "disaster in our food chain."
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"From what I understand, it's a million tons of grain that need to be imported," Buqueras told county commissioners, who also sit as the Port Authority board.
When grain arrives at Port Manatee, it will then be transferred to trains and/or trucks, and hauled to destinations in the nation's Midwest and Southeast. He did not name which companies planned to import the grain.
"We don't have the name yet, because we're working through trading companies," explained Buqueras.
Two big U.S. players, pork processor Smithfield Foods, and poultry producer Pilgrim's Pride, have already announced they will be importing corn from Brazil, Reuters reported this week.
It was not clear Tuesday which ports they intended to use for shipments to the U.S.
The worst U.S. drought in half a century has sent domestic corn prices through the roof, and made imports more attractive.
"It is a devastating drought, and everyone is trying to scramble to find feed, all the poultry farms are trying to find feed," Buqueras said. "They are shopping the global market, shopping through traders. They don't even know how much of the crop they will be able to salvage."
President Barack Obama said Tuesday at the White House that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working with every other agency across the federal government "to make sure that we are taking every single possible step to help farmers and ranchers to fight back and recover from this disaster."
According to the Associated Press, Obama is directing the Agriculture Department to authorize an additional $30 million to help crop and livestock producers in drought-stricken areas of the U.S. The spending does not require congressional approval, and the money has already been allocated to the department.
Obama announced a series of additional steps to assist people and businesses hit by the drought, including a Transportation Department program to help commercial truck drivers deliver supplies to affected areas.
Obama also called on Congress to pass a farm bill languishing on Capitol Hill. He says passing the five-year, $500 billion farm bill would give farmers much-needed certainty.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.