Nuts for holiday cooking languish as US shipping crisis hurts farmers

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ESCALON, Calif., Dec. 9 (Reuters) – Shrink-wrapped boxes of fresh California nuts stacked almost to the ceiling at Don Barton’s packaging plant in California are expected to be headed to Europe for holiday baking and to Asia for the New Year celebrations.

Instead, freshly cleaned and shelled walnuts – worth around $ 10 million – are stuck at its processing plant near Sacramento, thousands of miles from their destinations, as the global crisis of the supply chain is compressing the ports.

Transportation and supply chain issues are hurting farmers on the West Coast of the United States, a major global supplier of specialty crops like fruits and nuts, popular during year-end celebrations.

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Ships that would normally pick up nuts from Barton’s company, Gold River Orchards, skip the Port of Oakland where nuts are typically exported, or show up at odd or unexpected times that make it difficult to get the product to the docks. .

“We are currently shipping less than half of what we should be shipping and could be shipping at this time of year, simply because there is no equipment available,” said Barton, standing in the middle of imposing processing machines and pallets loaded with boxes marked for shipment abroad.

The ships are also skipping the Northwest Seaport complex in Seattle and Tacoma where hay, apples and beans are waiting to be exported. In the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, freighters wait for weeks for a place in the port, only to leave abruptly, in many cases without picking up the goods to be exported.

Much of the shipping crisis is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Homebound Americans are teeming with unspent travel and entertainment dollars, and government stimulus has splurged on everything from food and refrigerators to toys and exercise equipment. Demand for imports overwhelmed supply chains and prompted container shipping companies to focus on the most profitable routes between China and the Port of Los Angeles, ignoring the others.

Farmers who agreed to deliver fruits, nuts and other produce in time for the holidays are breaking their contracts, losing business to foreign producers who they say may never return.

At the Port of Oakland, just 679 ships stopped to pick up cargo in the first nine months of 2021, up from 959 the year before, spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur said, although part of the drop was was compensated by additional cargo carried by larger ships.

“A lot of people rely on high quality American food products and there is a demand for them overseas,” Sandifur said. “The challenge is to get them to come over there.”

German importers have struggled to get inshell California nuts, a popular seasonal snack, to supermarkets in time for Christmas due to six to eight week delays in the departure of ships, said Jens Borchert of German importer Mariani from California.

The California nut industry exported 47% fewer inshell nuts and 16% fewer shelled nuts in September and October 2021 compared to the previous year, the California Walnut Board said in a report. Data from the almond industry shows a 19% drop in exports in the three months ending Oct. 31 compared to the period a year earlier.

Barton says his exports fell about 75% in October from a year earlier. A key contract, to supply nuts for the holiday season to supermarket chains in Sweden, was canceled after the nuts were held up for weeks while awaiting a ship, he said.

ERRATIC SHIPPING TIMES

For Dairy America, a cooperative that is the world’s largest supplier of skimmed milk powder, shipping costs have risen 30-40% and contracts have been canceled due to irregular shipping schedules, said Derik Toy. , Fresno Group Supply Chain Director.

Last month, the cooperative had to find storage for 18 containers of powdered milk in Arizona, after numerous schedule changes by a shipping company tasked with transporting them from Los Angeles to Colombia. The cooperative will now have to pay late fees on the containers it has rented to transport the milk.

Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, said its members reported a 22% drop in exports in the first four months of 2021 alone.

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the nation’s busiest port complex, have dominated media coverage of supply chain issues. But congestion has made it more difficult for farmers to export their produce across the country, Friedmann said.

At the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, exports are down 11% this year and 20% from the five-year average, said Steve Balaski, acting director of business development for the Northwest Seaport Alliance.

Three shipping services are suspending stopovers at the North West port complex in December, and ships on two other routes will reduce the frequency of stopovers there, he said.

Ports are the primary export destinations for frozen apples and fried potatoes. They also ship peas, lentils and about 40% of the country’s hay exports.

Shipments to Europe, Latin America and parts of Asia outside of China are particularly affected, he said.

“When they are unable to export, it really affects the ability of farmers to earn money,” Balaski said.

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Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Nathan Frandino in Escalon, California. Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles, Nigel Hunt in London and Karl Plume in Chicago Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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