Tennessee’s newest port sits in the center of a multistate agricultural region and opens up opportunities with China and other growing Asian markets that demand cotton, grain and meat.
The Port of Cates Landing, located on the Mississippi River near the northwest Tennessee town of Tiptonville, boasts a proximity to interstates 55, 155, 40, 24 and 69, plus major air and rail freight centers of Memphis and the Canadian National Railway line.
Its location was strategic, but not without challenge. The port is built on the only developable site on the Mississippi River above the 100-year flood plain between Memphis and Cairo, Ill. And its surrounding areas are highly agricultural.
These factors give Cates Landing an edge in international trade, says Ed Harlan, Tennessee Department of Agriculture Director of Agriculture and Forestry Development.
Grain, Cotton Are Top Picks
“We see huge potential for grain to come out of the port,” Harlan says. “Countries such as China and Japan have developed a taste for a higher-protein diet but they don’t have the land mass to produce grain to feed chicken and beef. We’ve also had a group from China looking at our efficient, modern cotton pickers. In China, much of the cotton is still handpicked.
“In West Tennessee, big fields go on for miles,” Harlan says. “The economies of scale will make this an extremely good spot.”
The Port facility sits on 150 acres with 350 adjacent acres in the Lake County Industrial Park. The levee-protected area includes sites designed to withstand 100-year and 500-year floods. When the Mississippi flooded in May 2011, a helicopter fly-over showed the port site was fine, Harlan says.
“It was very, very good news,” he says.
Tennessee a Major Exporter
Tennessee already ranks 8th among U.S. states as an exporter of cotton and linters, according to 2010 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is in the Top 25 for exports of three other major commodities: soybeans, wheat and poultry. In the last decade, Tennessee’s agriculture exports have increased nearly 50 percent, and exports of its three main products have more than tripled.
Growers and producers have the capacity to do more, and Cates Landing will give many a closer, more economical way of getting their goods on the move. The optimal maximum distance from a port or rail hub for raw commodities is about 60 miles, Harlan says. The Lake County site not only will benefit Tennessee farmers but also give their peers in Arkansas, Missouri and Kentucky another option.
The expansion of the Panama Canal by 2014 also opens up more South American markets for Tennessee commodities, and Cates Landing is part of a planned new free-trade zone.
The port will be accessible to barge traffic year round and the harbor’s southern end will have a 300-foot turnaround for tugboats. A working dock is in place, and the first cell pilings were placed in November 2011.
“After many years of trial and error and fits and starts, the funding is in place and machinery and people are on the ground,” Harlan says. “Finally all the pieces of the puzzle have come together.”