Puget Sound backup hints at grain rebound

SEATTLE — There’s a backup of cargo ships on Puget Sound, and port officials are happy about it.

Over the past couple of weeks, a queue of two or three cargo ships has formed at Seattle’s Pier 86 as they wait to be loaded with soybeans and corn headed to Japan and China.

Port of Seattle officials said the backup is an early good sign that grain exports from the Midwest are rebounding after a drought cut production last year. Officials in Tacoma echoed their Seattle counterparts and are also seeing queues form.

“It’s too early to make any numerical guesses. These are the first vessels we’ve had since the drought started last year. We’re expecting more before the end of the year,” said Peter McGraw, spokesman for the Port of Seattle.

Exports out of Tacoma and Seattle dropped last year. In Seattle, exports fell from 5 million tons in 2011 to 3.1 million tons. In the past five years, grain exports had slowly dropped from 6 million tons to over 5 million.

Tacoma also saw a decline, going from nearly 6 million tons in 2011 to 4.8 million tons in 2012.

“We saw a definite drop in grain exports last year related to the drought and earlier this year because rain delayed the season,” Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina said. “We are seeing grain ship traffic pick up this month, with queues as they wait for berth space. That’s more typical to what we’ve seen in years past.”

McGraw said that the grain is coming from as far as Iowa and Nebraska and that it will be used in Asia to feed livestock.

“The ships are all waiting patiently for their turn to fill up,” he said.

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