By Tina Irgang Leaderman
Photography by Bill McAllen
The Port of Baltimore continues on a solid path of recovery, particularly in the category of roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) cargo, which includes heavy farm and construction machinery. Through the first nine months of 2021, export volume for ro/ro is up 27%, whereas overall ro/ro has grown 30% when comparing January-September of 2021 with the same period in 2020.
“During COVID, agricultural and construction dealers depleted their inventories and need to replenish with new equipment,” resulting in export growth, said Joseph Marecki, Administrator, Business Development in the ro/ro category for the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA).
This increased business is coming through Baltimore due to its strategic location. “The Port of Baltimore’s public and private marine terminals are located just minutes from Interstate 95 — the East Coast’s major north-south corridor — and I-70, the east-west connection,” Marecki said. “With this advantage, our customers’ cargo can reach one-third of the U.S. population and the industrial heartland in just an overnight drive from The Port of Baltimore.”
Baltimore currently handles more heavy farm and construction machinery than any other port in the nation.
“The Port of Baltimore has been the top ro/ro port in the nation for years,” said William P. Doyle, MDOT MPA Executive Director. “In addition to our geographic advantage of being closer to the Midwest manufacturers than other ports, our highly skilled labor force makes Baltimore the best.”
Major customers in this sector include CNH Industrial, Caterpillar and John Deere.
CNH Industrial, a global leader in industrial goods, designs and manufactures a range of vehicles — from tractors, combines and other agricultural machinery to construction equipment, commercial vehicles, trucks and buses. The company also develops powertrain solutions for on and off-road and marine vehicles. It ships some 3,500 to 4,000 units annually from Baltimore to its overseas customers — mostly tractors, 4WD tractors, combines, sprayers, balers and other types of equipment associated with CNH’s two agriculture brands, Case IH and New Holland. The equipment originates in production plants in Midwestern states such as Nebraska, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota.
From Baltimore, the company’s exports ship mostly to Europe and Australia, and its trade lanes are similar to those used by John Deere and Caterpillar.
For CNH Industrial, shipping through the Port of Baltimore is a win-win. “The Port of Baltimore has always been a great and reliable partner for CNH Industrial, providing the services and support needed to move our products safely and efficiently,” said Michael Malkinski, CNH Industrial’s Supervisor of Port Operations for the NAFTA Region. “The Port is well positioned geographically. Its inland location makes it a perfect spot to use for products coming from our various Midwest manufacturing sites and from our New Holland plant in Pennsylvania. The Port offers a solid infrastructure to either ship or receive our products. The location is well served by rail and offers easy access to major highways. The Port of Baltimore is also well served by several major vessel lines, with shipping lanes that best serve our cargo needs. Lastly, the Port of Baltimore is staffed with excellent terminal operators, stevedores and labor who are able to handle our type of machinery safely and professionally.”
To further support auto and ro/ro customers, the MDOT MPA is in the process of reconstructing and strengthening its Dundalk Marine Terminal berths to better accommodate the increasing size of heavy farm and construction machinery.
Growth in Paper Products and Beyond
The Port’s strong recovery from pandemic lows is also driven by growth in the paper-products category. Comparing September 2021 to September 2020, paper volume was up 63%. In addition, the year-to-date numbers for 2021 (through the end of September) show an increase of 73% compared to 2020.
The increases reflect in part a major contract the MDOT MPA signed in fall 2020 with one of the world’s top international forest-product producers, Metsä Group of Finland, to consolidate all the company’s Mid-Atlantic volumes through Baltimore. The three-year contract, to which Logistec (as terminal operator Balterm) was also a party, commenced January 1, 2021. It includes options to extend for another three years, yielding a potential six-year total. The contract was expected to generate hundreds of jobs and bring more than 370,000 tons of rolled paper to Maryland for products such as cardboard boxes and other e-commerce packaging.
The Port will continue to shore up its growth across all categories by expanding capacity to serve two ultra-large container ships at one time. Four new, massive Neo-Panamax cranes arrived in September (see related story, page 16) and dredging is complete for a second, 50-foot-deep berth at the Seagirt Marine Terminal, which is managed under a public-private partnership between MDOT MPA and Ports America Chesapeake. More than 465,000 cubic yards of sediment were removed and placed in the Masonville Dredged Material Containment Facility.
Complementing the Port’s growing container business are plans to expand Baltimore’s Howard Street Tunnel. The project will allow the tunnel to accommodate double-stacked container rail cars, clearing a longtime hurdle for the Port of Baltimore and giving the entire East Coast seamless double-stack capacity from Maine to Florida. The project involves clearance improvements in the tunnel and at 22 other locations between Baltimore and Philadelphia.
When completed, it is expected to increase the Port’s business by about 160,000 containers annually. It will also generate an estimated 6,550 construction jobs and an additional 7,300 jobs from the increased business. The project is benefiting from public-private investment by the federal government, Maryland, CSX and others.