FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA, U.S. – With Hurricane Irma bearing down on the U.S. East Coast, grain companies in the region are preparing for the storm to make landfall, and in some cases are temporarily ceasing operations.
The hurricane, currently categorized as a category 4, is forecast to make landfall on Sept. 10. The Florida state government is calling for evacuations and preparation all over the state.
Bay State Milling said as of Friday, Sept. 8, it is temporarily ceasing operations at its facilities in Fort Lauderdale and Indiantown, Florida. It plans to restart operations Sept. 12 as long as it is safe, which Bay State said was its primary concern.
Cargill is also being cautious and implementing safety first at its Tampa, Florida, facility.
“In what’s predicted to be the strongest hurricane to hit Florida in 25 years, our teams are closely watching forecasts and have implemented full hurricane preparedness as a precaution,” Cargill said. “Keeping our employees and assets safe is paramount so Cargill will close the Tampa grain elevator location on Sunday (Sept. 10) and Monday (Sept. 11) as a precaution. We will resume operations as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Ardent Mills' community mills in the southeastern portion of the U.S. are open for operation. However, the Tampa, Florida mill will be complying with Florida's mandated evacuation order and will closed at 6:00p.m on Sept. 8. The mill said it has communicated with its customers regarding this situation. Hurricane Irma's path is projected to go up the middle of Florida between Tampa and Orlando.
Ardent Mills said that it's facility team is taking all necessary precautions to secure property to mitigate the potential for flying debris and the intrusion of water. Each one continues to meet customer needs by processing orders and making shipments in advance of Hurricane Irma's landfall.
"Our Operations team and partner carriers are keeping a watchful eye for conditions that would impair the safe delivery of flour and ingredients to customers such as high winds, standing water, downed trees and flying debris," Ardent Mills said.
According to an industry source, flour mills and feed mixers in Florida, Georgia and Alabama have shifted production to the Carolinas and further north to avoid the hurricane.
The Georgia state government is calling for coastal evacuations due to the predicted path of the storm.
The Georgia Port Authority will cease operations at the Ports of Brunswick and Savannah beginning Saturday, Sept. 9, through Tuesday, Sept. 12. The truck gates will close in Savannah on Sept. 8, while vessel operations will end at midnight.
At Colonel’s Island and Mayor’s Point terminals in Brunswick, gates will close at 5 p.m. Friday.
“The safety of our employees and partners in the maritime community is our highest concern,” said Griff Lynch, GPA executive director. “We encourage GPA staff and our neighbors to heed Governor Deal’s warning and evacuate ahead of the storm.”
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has issued a mandatory evacuation order effective Saturday, Sept. 9, for Coastal Georgia.
In 2014, the Port of Brunswick exported 906,616 tonnes of grain, making it the seventh largest major seaport in the United States.
“Our terminals in Savannah and Brunswick play a vital role in customer supply lines,” Lynch said. “After the hurricane passes, we are committed to assessing any damage and getting our ports back up and running as quickly as possible.”
The Georgia Port Authority noted that the opening of terminals is dependent on the hurricane path and post facilities assessment.
The potential threat of damage and grain industry disruption in Florida and Georgia comes closely after Hurricane Harvey hit south Texas and parts of Louisiana in late August. Hurricane Harvey dropped a record of 50 inches, or 127 centimeters, of rain with winds topping 130 mph.
The U.S. Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) reported regions of Louisiana and North and South Texas account for 46% of total U.S. wheat exports based on the 5-year average.
Following the flooding from Hurricane Harvey, some Texas ports are still closed and rail embargos remain in effect.