Poultry growers tap Savannah to keep exports moving


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Americold recently brought a 290,000 square-foot cold storage facility online in Effingham County. (Courtesy of Americold)

Private expansion to support poultry growers

During the COVID-19 crisis, the Georgia Ports Authority serves as an important link between American producers and the global marketplace.

March was the third busiest month for containerized exports in GPA’s history, even though overall container volume for the Port of Savannah dipped by 18.5 percent. Garden City Terminal moved loaded export boxes totaling approximately 129,270 twenty-foot equivalent container units, behind only March 2019 (146,200 TEUs) and April (133,560). Major exports for the Port of Savannah include paper and wood pulp, kaolin clay, and farm products including frozen poultry.

In November 2019, the Chinese government agreed to lift a five-year ban on the import of U.S. poultry, re-opening an important market to American producers. The first shipment, chicken paws produced in Georgia, sailed from Savannah in January.

For the fiscal year to date (July-March), refrigerated exports have grown by 10 percent, up by more than 6,000 TEUs for a total of 68,400 TEUs.

The Port of Savannah features the nation’s most extensive terminal infrastructure for refrigerated containers, with more than 3,200 plugged slots for chilled cargo. Handling 37 percent of U.S. frozen poultry exports in 2019, the Port of Savannah is the nation’s busiest export gateway for the commodity.

With the recent expansion of Americold into a new 290,000 square-foot facility, private cold storage infrastructure in Savannah totals 1.4 million square feet.

Americold’s new facility strengthens Savannah’s position as a hub for chilled and frozen cargo, and complements the port’s continued development of on-terminal refrigerated cargo infrastructure. The additional private capacity will support Georgia agriculture, and comes at a perfect time, with the reopening of the Chinese market to U.S. poultry.

The new facility features 37,000 pallet positions, advanced blast-freezing capabilities, as well as space and infrastructure to support significant trade in refrigerated containers. Americold began receiving product after a soft opening in March.

“The Port of Savannah is one of the fastest-growing ports in the United States and has seen increased traffic in temperature-controlled trade,” said Fred Boehler, president and CEO of Americold. “We believe this development project represents a significant long-term growth opportunity for the company, as we continue to grow our scale and develop our partnership with the Port of Savannah.”

The new building will support poultry exports to key Asian markets such as China, as well as Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.  Savannah’s newest cold storage facility is on the campus of PortFresh, a 100,000-square foot facility serving mainly chilled imports. Americold acquired PortFresh and its 163-acre site in 2019. The Effingham County location is adjacent to Interstate 16 and less than 20 miles from the Port of Savannah’s Garden City Terminal. The new warehouse will provide up to 80 new jobs, according to Boehler.

While exports of poultry and pork will dominate the trade at the new building, it will also handle vegetable exports and seafood imports.  Americold will blast-freeze export commodities on-site.