Savannah Harbor deeper ag exports

Six feet makes big difference in U.S. ag exports

They say baseball is a game of inches. Any sport really is. And if you are like me and believe sports can mirror life, then life is a game of inches.

If I had one more inch, I’d be six feet tall. If the Savannah Harbor, obviously located in Savannah, Ga., gets another six feet of drift, or just six feet deeper, it can continue to be one of the main places U.S. ag exports leave to go see the world. If it doesn’t grow deeper, it won’t be.

The Savannah Harbor is one of the largest, most active harbors in the U.S. There’s a bunch of numbers to prove that, but it pretty much ranks fourth in pure tonnage handled. It is one of the very top, though, when it comes to U.S. ag exports, which means foreign money coming into our country instead of it fleeing our country to the world, which is way too much the norm these days. Something I know and believe is not sustainable.

Here’s something I didn’t know: The Savannah Harbors is also the shallowest harbor in North America, with only about 42 feet of drift for cargo ships to pass through. Who cares? Well …

At the International Agribusiness Conference in Savannah in September, the dredging of the Savannah River, making its harbor deeper and more accommodating to larger cargo was top priority No. 1. Every speaker pretty much referenced it and it was on the tongue of most chatter between sessions. Much larger super-sized cargo ships, they say, will soon be passing through the Panama Canal, the famous passage for much the world, at least in our part of the world and one that connects global commerce.

The Panama Canal itself is getting a girthy makeover as we speak, to make way for these super-sized ships to pass.

Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal in September went to Panama, he told the conference in Savannah, to check on the progress of the Panama Canal’s expansion.

The widening is slated to be complete by 2015. He said folks doing the work said the project there was a bit behind schedule, at least behind what they personally wanted to accomplish, which is another way to say they want to get it done and finished now.

They’re coming, and if the super ships can’t park to load or unload in Savannah, well, they’ll go someplace else. Accommodating good customers, no matter how big they sail, is just good business.

The timing’s right for this kind of investment in the South, if not behind time. U.S. ag exports remain the shining part of our economy about any way you shake the numbers. The world is hungry and the taste and the quality of American-grown and cared-for food is the “Gold Standard” in the world.

And if your neighbor thinks otherwise on that, ‘wisen’ them up about it.

I know enough about business and money to know it doesn’t come free, at least it doesn’t for most of us.

To make money, you have to spend money. And to make real money, you have to be willing to peel off the big bucks.

Heck, U.S. farmers know that fact better than about any group of capitalists in the world. They dole out the big-time funds annually to make the high-quality food the world now finds itself with the means to pay for and want. And that is money well spent to keep that reputation alive.

Mixed funding

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, neatly called SHEP, looks to cost about $650 million, a mix of state, private and federal money mingling together.

Another way to put it, I guess, is for every foot deeper you want to dig the Savannah River to the Savannah Harbor, particularly its well-used Garden City terminal, you need to be willing to spend $100 million and some change per foot. That is real money.

The project is “shovel ready,” said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. But the total funds are not. They’re still locked for the most part in Washington. Hope was that the money would come through, though, be year’s end.

Is it worth it? Sure.

According to Deal, who quoted some Army Corps of Engineers numbers, every dollar spent on the Savannah Harbor expansion will return $5.50 in economic impact, or what seems the right way to stimulate an economy.

Even if you factor in political math spin, that still seems like a good return on investment. And, again, I’m biased but I like money invested in the South.

I looked over the Savannah canal and watched loaded cargo ships pass by on their way to the world. It still amazes a simple redneck like me that man can build and handle such things, especially in tight places like the Savannah Canal, which passes in front of buildings that once stored cotton and other Georgia commodities two centuries ago.

I could have, with a good wind and a strong arm, hit the ships with a baseball from where I stood. I couldn’t imagine a larger ship trying to get through that canal. I couldn’t imagine a ship larger.

I wondered what was loaded on those ships. I could guess but I’d never be sure. Then I realized I could be sure. It was money, just in its various commodity or product forms.

Ships loaded with a tradition of global cooperation brought together by trade: old trade agreements, reacquainted ones and new ones likely mixed in the stacks. Nothing really ground breaking.

It was just the right now building on things learned from the past. It was the future.

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