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Ag shippers suggest compromise and shared vision

By Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
June 26, 2014

The Agriculture Transportation Coalition’s 26th annual meeting convenes in San Francisco today, as shippers confront a whole host of new challenges.

With a possible U.S. West Coast waterfront strike looming, the AgTC has noted that all stakeholders are odd “bedfellows.”

“Like the ports, the International Longshore and the Warehouse Union, (ILWU), we shippers are physically stuck in place,” says Peter Friedmann, AgTC’s Executive Director.

“Cotton fields, lumber mills, almond orchards, citrus groves, dairy farms, meat packing houses, hay/straw fields cannot and will not move. So if agriculture and forest products are stuck here, does that ensure a steady flow of US agriculture and forest products across West Coast ports?”

The question was not rhetorical, Friedmann adds.

“As much as our growers and processors would like that to be the case, the answer, unfortunately, is not due to global competition.”

He notes that the AgTC was founded on this reality: There is nothing that we produce in agriculture and forest products in the United States, that cannot be sourced somewhere else in the world. If we cannot deliver dependably and affordably, our foreign customers will simply shift their sourcing to other countries.

“Yes we produce a lot of wheat, soybeans, french fries, cotton, citrus, beef and hay,” says Friedmann, “but so does Canada, Brazil, Australia, Turkey, Chile, Argentina, Holland. When the West Coast ports were shut down 10 years ago during labor negotiations, Japanese confectioners, unable to gain timely delivery of California almonds, simply substituted Turkish almonds. Over a decade later, superior California almonds have not reclaimed every lost Asian customer.”

Agriculture is time and treatment sensitive, observes Friedmann, adding that delays at the port are the “death knell” of the perishable cargoes that move in refrigerated containers.

“Just a day or two longer means the difference as to whether the supermarket in Japan or Korea will accept the cargo at all, due to the remaining limited shelf life,” he says. “One or two instances of delay is sufficient for the supply-chain managers of a supermarket chain to simply shift its sourcing of beef and mutton to Australia or New Zealand.”

Friedmann made the following plea to longshore labor and management now negotiating a new six-year contract:

· That they recognize and address the emerging trends listed above.

·That they work towards assuring long-term cost and operational competitiveness of US West Coast ports, as measured against US East and Gulf Coast, Canadian, European, and Asian ports.

· That they see the U.S. farmers and agriculture and forest products exporters as your long term partners anchoring business flows and waterfront jobs on the West Coast.

“And finally, that they accept our invitation to enter into a serious dialogue to understand why agriculture and forest products are, like you, captive to our geographic location, and what it will take to keep our cargo flowing across West Coast docks,” said Friedmann. 

About the Author

Patrick Burnson
Executive Editor

Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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