Record live cattle exports through the Port of Galveston

May 25, 2012

Pier 34, at the Port of Galveston, is the loading dock for what officials hope will become the boom for live cattle shipments.

Port of Galveston officials are hoping to capitalize on cargo loaded with cattle or wind-powered generators, the first of which is on the cutting edge of new technology and setting the Port of Galveston up to be the premier U.S. cattle port.

Limited space at the port is creating some logistical complications for all parties involved, but attracting and keeping both cargos is in the planning process, according to officials.

“But the problem is, they can’t come in at the same time,” Port Director Mike Mierzwa said. “Everyone is competing for limited space.”

The port is considering spending about $30,000 for fencing and cattle pens to help with the growing live cattle shipments and keep the ball rolling on the live cattle shipping boom.

Earlier this month, Suderman Stevedores, a live cattle shipping company, organized the first summit on the topic to discuss and evaluate the port’s practices.

Responding to the surge in demand in 2011 from Russia, Turkey and Kazakhstan for live cattle exports from the U.S., US- DA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) approved seven temporary export inspection facilities, or EIFs, in 2011 to supplement the work done at the agency’s approved permanent facilities.

With the establishment of EIFs, APHIS has been able to keep commerce moving, adapting to a level of cattle exports that doubled in 2011 on top of a 50 percent increase in 2010.

But the growth in live cattle shipments brings with it some challenges.

From the late 1800s until about the 1960s, cattle was common cargo at the port. Last June, the port loaded about 1,500 pregnant heifers headed to Russia, marking the first time in decades that livestock was handled at the docks.

Since then, about 24,650 head of cattle have shipped from the port.

But to improve the port’s bottom line and make it worthwhile, the numbers need to reach about 200,000 head per year, according to Mierzwa.

The driving demand is currently Russia, with their cattle industry poised on growth. In 2008, the market opened for U.S. livestock producers to transport live cattle to the country. Most of the heifers shipped through the island port are from Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Russia now imports as many as 50,000 head of cattle annually from the U.S., but hopes to produce 85 percent of its meat domestically by 2020, according to reports.

Successfully moving livestock onto vessels for ocean transport involves coordination of many processes and stakeholders.

Before the first cattle shipment arrived at Pier 34 last June, port officials spent 16 months waiting for the official approval from USDA to export livestock.

While improvement plans are underway, the port is still the most ideal location currently because of a nearby warehouse for holding cattle. Federal rules require cattle be unloaded, fed, watered and rested for five hours before loading them on to a ship.

A national record for live cattle in one port shipment was set on a 2011 shipment last September under Suderman Contracting Stevedores, Inc., the newest member of the Nautilus family of companies. The MV Ocean Drover, Suderman’s second vessel load out, handled a total of 5,584 Holstein and Angus heifers, plus approximately 300 pregnant heifers.

Live cargo requires careful handling and special attention to detail, and according to a recent Suderman’s press release, they also are looking for ways to improve the process.

Currently, a team of US- DA veterinarians monitor the cattle throughout the entire trip.

Sudermans is involved in the new terminal, vessel and ground transport improvements that are being planned for the continued success of the export process. These include facility pens that enhance the livestock de-stressing and resting process, improved truck receiving experience for livestock and truck control operations for long-haul drivers, updated vessel loading and emergency unloading processes, and upgraded inspection areas for USDA to ensure health and safety for personnel and livestock.

The objective of the recent Galveston summit was to evaluate and discuss current livestock export practices to improve port processes and logistics, with the goal to mitigate logistical and regulatory constraints to develop Galveston into the premier livestock port in the U.S.

Attendees included USDA, Texas A&M University, American Genetics International, Wellard Shipping, U.S. Coast Guard, West Gulf Maritime Association, County Judge of Galveston County, Texas Veterinarian & Diagnostic Lab, Texas Animal Health Commission, livestock brokers, feed yards and cattle producers.

This emerging cattle market is expected to create a demand for multiple vessels per quarter for years to come.

“Overall, U.S. farmers and ranchers are experiencing their best period in history in terms of agricultural exports, and USDA’s support is an important part of that success,” said Rebecca Blue, acting deputy under secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

For more information on Suderman Stevedores, visit — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor