Port Problems Plague Producers

Tacy Callies California Corner, Shipping


The ongoing supply-chain crisis is a big headache to businesses and consumers alike, with no end in sight for the immediate future. Perishable products are particularly at risk, as even a week or two delay can affect product quality.

The port delays that caused the supply-chain crisis began on the West Coast with labor shortages due to the pandemic. These problems were coupled with truck shortages due to various reasons, including labor problems from the pandemic and California regulations limiting the lifespan of diesel-powered vehicles.

Near Los Angeles, in early November, 111 ships loaded with thousands of containers each were anchored offshore, waiting to unload. The previous record waiting to dock was 17.

This has grown into a worldwide crisis. With ships and containers tied up on the West Coast of the United States, shipping delays and shortages began to snowball around the world.

“Handling a lot of imported fruit is definitely a difficult problem now,” said shipping specialist Taylor Ball. Ball manages West Coast citrus shipments (both imports and exports) for Dayka & Hackett, a large California-based fruit distribution company with growing, packing and shipping operations on both coasts. The company ships more than 15 million cartons of fresh fruit annually.

Ball said some imported fruit was on the ship for too long, resulting in lower quality and a fermented taste. “Fresher California fruit is on the market now,” said Ball. “Normally, the imported fruit would have been fresh, delivered and off the shelves before the California fruit came to market.”

“It’s expensive to have those growers ship their fruit up to the U.S.,” explained Ball. “There are a lot of costs involved, and with the ships delayed for weeks and weeks, the value is less. And worst of all is the uncertainty. When we call to check on a shipment, no one has good answers on when a particular boat will be unloaded.”

The supply-chain snags are not only affecting produce. Packers need to be on the lookout for difficulties in obtaining all kinds of supplies. Production materials such as packing supplies — bags, boxes, bottles, whatever a producer might need to market their product — might not be available. Fertilizer shortages have caused prices to double in the Midwest corn belt.

Shipping backups at big U.S. ports are not likely to resolve until well into 2022. Some economists are even more pessimistic, saying that the problems won’t be resolved until 2023.

President Biden has promised to take action to help the ports clear the logjam. Last summer he created a task force to study the problem, but solutions have been elusive so far.

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About the Author

Len Wilcox

Correspondent at Large for Citrus Industry Magazine and AgNet West

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