EASTPORT, Maine — “This is going to be my first rodeo,” Roland “Skip” Rogers said Friday as he readied the port of Eastport to transfer 500 dairy cows into climate-controlled transport containers for shipment to Turkey.
Rogers, the general manager for Federal Marine Terminals Inc., said he was crossing his fingers that all would go well when the Holsteins arrive at the port in livestock trailers today.
Getting the approval Thursday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to export livestock was a major coup for the port, the only one in New England authorized to export livestock.
Although this first shipment of cows did not originate wholly in Maine — they include heifers from Maine, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — Maine’s agriculture community is taking notice and hoping the approval will open doors for Maine livestock producers to international markets.
“To have a licensed port in Maine at Eastport can only help Maine farmers,” Ned Porter, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, said Friday.
By being the closest U.S. port to Europe and the last stop for many shipping vessels, Eastport can gain an edge in the livestock shipping industry.
Commercial ships often make several port stops to pick up cargo before heading overseas. By putting the cows on last in Eastport, shippers can minimize the length of the journey cows have on the vessel and lessen the stress on the animals, according to Eastport Port Director Chris Gardner.
He added that obtaining the USDA certification was no easy task.
Gardner on Friday credited Maine’s congressional delegation with fast-tracking the process. After the company shipping the heifers ran into exportation problems, Gardner reached out to the local and federal delegation. Within 36 hours, he said, temporary certification was approved.
“After much consternation, we were able to work with the federal delegation and get the USDA to [temporarily] permit our operation,” he said. “This is no small news; there are only a handful of seaports on the East Coast permitted to do this, and our addition could mean big things for the port.”
Gardner said the 500 cows would be exported on the Spliethoff vessel, which was already at the dock Friday loading pulp.
The cows will be transported in ventilated, climate-controlled livestock containers, and the journey to Turkey will take 16 days at sea.
The cows are being shipped by Sexting Technologies, a worldwide cow genetics company with headquarters in Navasota, Texas. The company is the world leader in sexed semen and embryo production for cattle, according to its website, and also exports live cattle for breeding purposes.
“We believe that there are at least another 800 going out in the coming months,” Gardner said. “Overall, there is the potential for over 8,000 cows to be sent, and as long as we are successful on this voyage we have no reason to believe that they will be shipped from anywhere but here.”
Gardner said the congressional delegation would continue to work to get a permanent livestock permit for the port.
“This is a major step to linking Maine’s farms and Maine shipping, a new way to combine two of the state’s key industries,” Gardner said.