During a recent Agriculture Transportation Coalition Annual Meeting, growers and ranchers vented their frustration after a year of shippers prioritizing Asian consumer products over American perishable goods.
West Coast ports reportedly fast-tracked empty containers bound for Asia while U.S. grown consumables were jeopardized. Even with the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 in place to empower the Federal Maritime Commission to monitor and prevent unfair export practices, members of the agricultural sector appear to possess long memories.
“For the carriers in the room, we will remember how we were treated in this very difficult time, and we will build our relationships accordingly.” Mishelle Walsh, of J.R. Simplot Company, reportedly said at the gathering.
J.R. Simplot produces potatoes, raises cattle, processes food, and manufacturers fertilizer. Operating in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, Argentina, and China, timely exports are essential to the agribusiness. Her pointed words were not isolated during the June 15 meeting.
GoldRiver Orchards’ Dan Barton, a producer of walnuts, indicated that his organization continues to post losses due to export shipping delays.
“The negative impact of reduced or discontinued service, lack of available containers at the Port of Oakland, and consistent cancellations of bookings has cost California walnut growers an estimated $700 million in the first seven months of the current crop year,” Barton reportedly said, citing California Walnut Board data.
And while members of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition were expressing frustration among industry leaders, the Port of Los Angeles is not necessarily maximizing its efficiency. The port gates are relatively free, upwards of 53 percent of the time. Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka recently pointed to truck drivers as the root cause of underused gates. He indicated that truckers tend to show up at midday, creating choke times while much of the day moves slowly.
“When peak season comes in, or rushes of cargo, you’ve got to be able to use this available time better. You just can’t snap your finger and expect people to go 24/7. But I think we’re going to get there a lot sooner than what it took e-commerce to evolve,” Seroka reportedly said. “We can’t build these facilities fast enough, and even though we boast 2 billion square feet from the shores of the Pacific now out to the desert region of Southern California, we’ve got to turn that cargo out faster and have enough space under roof to manage all of these consumer and manufacturing products.”
In response, Matt Schrap, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, pointed out that truckers must account for other facets of the supply chain when planning their pickups and deliveries. He also noted that late-night port hours have been inconsistent at times, and getting stuck overnight isn’t worth a truck driver taking the salary risk.
“As a human being, it doesn’t interest me to go at one in the morning, to sit in the marine terminal for two or three hours, with the ultimate fear that you might get shut out in the middle of a transaction,” Schrap reportedly said.