There are three major ports in Louisiana – New Orleans, South Louisiana and Baton Rouge. The three ports extend some 172 miles on both banks of the Mississippi River. The channel from New Orleans to Baton Rouge up the Mississippi River has a 48-foot draft. The navigational depths along the river, its channels and side canals range from 12 feet to 48 feet.
While all three ports are important, this FreightWaves Classics article will focus on the Port of South Louisiana; the ports of New Orleans and Baton Rouge will be profiled in future articles.
The Port of South Louisiana extends along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge for 54 miles. The port has facilities within St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes (counties). Its headquarters is in the community of LaPlace, roughly in the center of that stretch of river.
While it handles a variety of imports and exports, the port is the nation’s key port for grain shipments from the Midwest. In fact, the port handles approximately 60% of all raw grain exports from the United States.
According to 2019 statistics, the Port of South Louisiana ranked first in total domestic trade. The port is one of the nation’s largest ports in total throughput tonnage. It also ranks second in total foreign trade, and in global port rankings, the Port of South Louisiana was ranked 12th.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the port is the second-largest U.S. water port when summarized by tonnage. The port handled over 250 million short tons of cargo in 2020, brought to its terminals either by ships or barges. While more than 3,600 oceangoing vessels call at the port annually, the majority of its cargo is hauled by barges – more than 56,000 barges call at the port each year. In total, the Port of South Louisiana is the third-largest port in the U.S. for export and import tonnage.
Of the 250 million short tons of cargo that moved through the port last year, exports accounted for over 65 million short tons. That cargo throughput accounts for 15% and 57% of total U.S. and Louisiana exports, respectively.
Concurrently, the public and private terminals within the port complex handled more than 120.1 million short tons of foreign cargo during 2020. Various imports accounted for more than 54 million short tons.
According to the port’s website, “As one of America’s largest tonnage ports, the Port of South Louisiana is the premier sea gateway for U.S. export and import traffic…”
Structure and facilities
The Port of South Louisiana includes five port-owned facilities, which range from grain elevators to general cargo facilities. Within its complex, the port includes “seven grain elevators, multiple mid-stream operations, more than 40 liquid and dry bulk terminals, and Globalplex Intermodal Terminal.” The port leases these facilities to companies such as Archer Daniels Midland and Plains All American.
What is now called the Globalplex Intermodal Terminal was formerly a sugar refining complex that the port purchased in 1992. The terminal is located in a 335-acre maritime industrial park. Its redevelopment is being guided by a master plan that emphasizes “flexibility, efficiency and connectivity” in its redesign and new construction.
Globalplex is operated by Associated Terminals; it is used by both ships and barges and provides handling and storage for bulk, breakbulk and containerized cargoes. It also has storage and warehousing areas, space for light manufacturing and a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ).
FTZ 124 is one of the most active foreign trade zones in the U.S. It ranked fourth in the Merchandise Received (warehouse/distribution) category and in Exports (warehouse/distribution); in 2020, FTZ #124 admitted $34.6 billion of products and facilitated the employment of over 9,400.
As noted above, the Port of South Louisiana is the largest U.S. grain port. Its grain elevators handle over 50% of all U.S. grain exports annually. In 2020, these exports included 24.9 million short tons of soybeans, 21.4 million short tons of corn, 2.1 million short tons of animal feed, 1.5 million short tons of wheat, and over 407,000 short tons of other grain such as sorghum and rice.
Over 70% of the port’s imports are crude oil, petroleum products and other mineral fuels, making the port one of the nation’s top energy transfer ports. In 2020, crude oil imports totaled 36.9 million short tons, which made it the top-ranked imported commodity.
The Port of South Louisiana enjoys service by three railroads – Canadian National and Kansas City Southern on the Mississippi River’s east bank and Union Pacific on the river’s west bank.
There are a number of state and interstate highways near the port. These include I-10, I-310 and I-55, as well as U.S. highways 61 and 90. Louisiana highways 18, 44, 51, 3125 and 3127 are also available.
There are also two nearby airports: New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport; and the port’s Executive Regional Airport, which is located two miles from the Globalplex Intermodal Terminal at Reserve, Louisiana.
Cargo to and from more than 90 nations moves annually through the Port of South Louisiana. According to PIERS 2019, Jamaica, Brazil and Peru, Canada and the United Kingdom are the top five import countries. In exports, the top five commodity destinations are China, Mexico, Japan, Colombia and Egypt.
Many ports in the United States – particularly those on its coasts – receive more attention than the Port of South Louisiana. But its volume of imports and exports, as well as its future development mean that this port will continue to grow in size and importance.