Waiver obtained to allow soybean shipments from Port of Oswego to continue

A waiver has been obtained that will allow local soybean farmers and the Port of Oswego to export tons of exports to international markets.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Oct. 18 that he called and wrote a letter to United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to obtain the waiver so the whole shipment of New York soybeans wouldn’t be lost.

Schumer explained that while the port had a massive opportunity to ship 20,000 metric tons of locally-grown soybeans to international markets, such as Egypt, it was temporarily being prevented from moving forward as the U.S. Department of Agriculture had not yet signed off on a waiver needed to weigh and inspect grain manually.

The Port of Oswego has been granted a waiver from the requirement of using a diverter-type mechanical sampler for each of the past two years with the system working safely and efficiently. Furthermore, the Port of Oswego is finalizing plans to invest in the required sampling equipment and install a permanent export facility, which will render the waiver unnecessary.

Schumer said the temporary waiver is a critical victory for local soybean farmers as it will prevent a costly loss of desperately-needed business, but that a year-long extension is necessary to avoid bureaucratic hurdles during future export opportunities.

However, the USDA issued only a temporary waiver for this shipment alone, instead of the year-long waiver received the past two years. Schumer said this short-term waiver is problematic for two reasons.

First, the port’s project to install a permanent export facility that will make the waiver no longer necessary is not expected to be completed until 2020 under even the most accelerated timelines, meaning this waiver will be needed for the near future.

Second, forcing the port to seek the waiver on a case-by-case basis will add a bureaucratic hurdle to these export opportunities that require flexibility, quick decision making and complex logistical planning. Schumer said these circumstances, along with the safe implementation of the 12-month waiver for the past two years, require one last year-long waiver to be issued without delay.

“The clock was ticking and our New York farmers needed this 11th-hour waiver from USDA or else the whole massive soybean shipment – that they desperately need to get to market – would have been lost. That is why I urgently called Secretary Perdue and I am pleased he listened and was responsive and agreed to grant the waiver,” Schumer said.

“However in order to avoid another situation like this in the coming year, a year-long extension of this critical waiver must be granted ASAP, just like it has been the past two years,” he said. “With the port finalizing infrastructure plans that will finally render the waiver unnecessary, it makes no sense for force New York farmers to cut through bureaucratic red tape each time they seek to access much-needed export markets.”

After years of advocacy and planning, the port is working with New York state to install a permanent export facility with a diverter-type mechanical sampler that will make the waiver no longer necessary. However due to the size and scope of such a project, it cannot be completed until 2020 under even the most accelerated timelines.

With planning for this required facility already underway as proof of the port’s commitment to meeting USDA requirements, another year-long waiver will give the port flexibility to capitalize on future export opportunities.

The Port of Oswego, the first port on the Great Lakes system and only deep-water port on Lake Ontario, is already a major economic driver for Oswego County and Central New York. Specifically, the Port of Oswego supports 209 good-paying jobs, $26.7 million in economic activity, $13.8 million in personal income and local consumption expenditures and $5.8 million in federal and state tax revenue.

In recent years, the Port of Oswego has used this waiver to open up crucial markets for New York farmers who want to export their products, particularly soybeans. This past year, the port exported a record more than 51,000 metric tons of soybeans to foreign markets, a 325 percent increase from 2017. These soybean exports accounted for about seventeen percent of New York’s total soybean production. Schumer added that officials expect to exceed 55,000 metric tons of grain this year, but will be unable to do so without this critical waiver.