BY ZACHARY FITZGERALD
Above, Planters Rice Mill employees work Thursday morning to load rice from
a truck onto a barge at the Port of Morgan City’s dock. They used an electrically
powered conveyer belt to transfer the rice. About 3,500 tons will be loaded
into two barges at the port, where it will stay until a ship arrives to take it to Haiti.
Below, Port of Morgan City Executive Director Raymond “Mac” Wade holds a handful
that fell onto the ground this morning when workers transferred rice from a truck
to a barge. Any rice that falls off the conveyer belt is disposed of, Wade said.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector, left, and Planters Rice Mill worker
watch as rice comes out of a truck chute and onto a conveyer belt
transferring the rice to a barge this morning at the Port of Morgan City.
Anyone who goes by the Port of Morgan City during the next couple days is likely to see rice trucks coming and going. Beginning Wednesday, trucks from Planters Rice Mill in Abbeville were traveling back and forth to the port on their way to deliver 3,500 tons of rice that will be shipped to Haiti, Port of Morgan City Executive
Director Raymond “Mac” Wade said. This morning, the workers were loading rice onto two barges, which can each hold up to 2,000 tons of rice, at the Port of Morgan City’s dock. In November 2014, the ship exported 4,000 tons of rice to Haiti, Wade said. The ship on its way to the Port of Morgan City, Oslo Bulk 9, will be the 18th trip an import-export ship has taken to the port since August 2014. Wade expects the ship to arrive at the port Monday. Once the Oslo Bulk 9 gets to the Port of Morgan City, the ship will top off its load at another location and then export the rice to Haiti, Wade said. Wade described the process of how rice is loaded from trucks to the barges. Each truck pulls up to a chute in order to transfer the rice onto the barge, Wade said. Workers open a hatch on the rice truck, and then “rice just starts flowing” into the barge, he said. Rice flows out of the truck through the use of gravity. The rice is then transferred to the barge through an electrically-powered conveyer belt. Today, 45 truckloads of rice were scheduled to be loaded onto the barges. Ten loads of rice were trucked in Wednesday to the port. An additional 45 loads each day are set to arrive at the port Friday and Saturday, Wade said. Four to five people are needed to unload each rice truck, which carries about 20 tons of rice, Wade said. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have to inspect each barge before rice is loaded onto the barge and then have to inspect the rice while workers transfer therice from the trucks to the barges, Wade said. Any rice that falls off the chute and touches the ground is no longer allowed to be used, he said. Once the ship gets to the port, cranes will transfer the rice from the barges to the ship. Planters Rice is also getting the attention of rice co-ops that may be interested in exporting out of the port, Wade said. PMI Nutrition International kicked off the import-export business at the Port of Morgan City when it began importing sea salt and exporting grain from the Port of Morgan City in August 2014. However, the company is currently not able to import sea salt to the port from Mexico due to Mexican government’s moratorium on salt exports, Wade said. That moratorium is due to a low sea salt inventory in Mexico, he said. The sea salt will probably not start coming to the port again until July if the moratorium is lifted, Wade said. Each time an import-export ship visits the Port of Morgan City, the ship provides a roughly $300,000 economic impact to the community through direct and indirect jobs, fuel and tugboats used and many other factors, Wade said. U.S. Customs and the U.S. Coast Guard are also involved in the process each time an import-export ship arrives. “Our goal is to get a ship in here constantly,” Wade said. Planters Rice ships nine to 10 orders of rice to Haiti annually, he said. Though the oilfield industry is the port’s mainstay, Wade
hopes the import-export business will diversify the area’s industry, he said. The Port of Morgan City is only restricted by the river depth as to what products it can import and export, Wade said. The Port of Morgan City is a shallow-to-medium depth, niche port that can accommodate 3,000- to 8,000-ton shipments, which are too small for bigger ports to want to handle, he said. When the Oslo Bulk 9 leaves the Port of Morgan City, it will go out with probably a 16-foot draft, and the Atchafalaya River Bar Channel is about 18 feet deep right now, Wade said. The channel is congressionally authorized to be 20 feet deep. Port officials keep working to make sure the port gets adequate funds to dredge the river, he said.