The soy must flow: Schumer gets Port of Oswego grain shipment moving again

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, seen above gesturing during a summer 2019 visit to Lake Ontario, recently announced he had secured a waiver to get 20,000 metric tons of soybeans out from under federal regulations at the Port of Oswego.

OSWEGO — Imagine your 20,000-ton metric shipment of soybeans is having trouble in transit.

Federal officials say you lack the proper equipment to weigh and inspect the grain, per Department of Agriculture regulations. So your soybeans sit, unshipped and uneaten. Also: un-paid for.

Who you gonna call?

Chuck Schumer.

The U.S. Senate Minority Leader announced this week with “behind-the-scenes advocacy” including a direct appeal to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the Port of Oswego was granted a waiver to export “local soybeans… to extremely promising international markets.”

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

The problem arose because the port lacked access to a “diverter-type mechanical sampler” for inspecting the grain — a required step in the 20,000-ton soybean payload’s journey to what Schumer called a “massive opportunity” to markets such as Egypt. Without that equipment, the shipment needed a USDA waiver and Schumer said that waiver was caught up in “red tape.”

“After years of advocacy and planning, the Port is working with New York State to install a permanent export facility 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,” Schumer wrote in his letter to Purdue. “With the planning for this required facility already underway as proof of the Port’s commitment to meeting USDA requirements, I ask that you grant another year-long waiver.”

The Port of Oswego exported more than 51,000 metric tons of soybeans to foreign markets in 2018, accounting for roughly 17 percent of New York’s total soybean productions. The 20,000-ton shipment is valued at approximately $6.5 million, according to Port of Oswego Executive Director Bill Scriber.

“Most of the farmers in central New York use the Port of Oswego now to export their soybeans,” Scriber told The Palladium-Times, saying not receiving the USDA waiver would have had “a huge impact” on the port and local farmers.

“The senator stepped in and has helped us through a lot of areas, including producing this,” Scriber said. The New York State Department of Transportation also deserved kudos, Scriber said, saying they’ve worked “hand-in-hand developing the new grain export system.”

“USDA regulations are quite extensive so building the facility that meets their regulations is challenge,” Scriber said. “We wanted to make sure we did it right.”

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