Business

Walnuts for the holiday toasting languish as US shipping crisis hurts farmers

GoldRiver Orchards, a family-owned walnut producer in Escalon
Workers manually sort shelled walnuts along a conveyor belt at GoldRiver Orchards, a family-owned walnut producer in Escalon, California, U.S. November 16, 2021. REUTERS / Brittany Hosea- Small

December 9, 2021

By Sharon Bernstein and Nathan Frandino

ESCALON, Calif. (Reuters) – Cans of fresh California walnuts wrapped in near-ceiling plastic wrap in Don Barton’s California packing facility should be shipped to Europe for holiday baking and to Asia for celebrate new year.

Instead, freshly cleaned and shelled nuts – worth about $10 million – are stuck at his processing plant near Sacramento, thousands of miles from their destination, as the supply chain crisis looms. Global response tightens ports.

Transportation and supply chain issues are plaguing farmers on the West Coast of the United States, a major global supplier of specialty crops such as fruit and nuts popular during the holidays. year-end anniversary.

The ships that normally get walnuts from Barton’s company, the Gold River Orchards, are bypassing the Port of Oakland, where the nuts are often exported, or show up at odd or unexpected times that make it difficult to get the product to products to the port.

“We are shipping less than half of what we should be shipping at the moment and will probably be shipping this time of year simply because we don’t have the equipment,” Barton said. standing amid towering processing machinery and pallets filled with boxes marked for overseas shipping.

Ships are also bypassing the Northwest Seaport complex in Seattle and Tacoma, where hay, apples and beans await export. At the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, freighters wait weeks for a berth, then abruptly leave, in many cases failing to get cargo for export.

The majority of shipping failures are due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Americans live at home well off with unspent travel and entertainment money and government stimulus pouring into everything from food and refrigerators to toys and exercise equipment. Import demand overwhelmed supply chains and led container carriers to focus on the most profitable routes between China and the Port of Los Angeles, ignoring other routes.

Farmers who have agreed to deliver fruit, nuts and other products during the holiday are defaulting on their contracts, which will lose business to foreign growers they say they may never return.

At the Port of Oakland, only 679 vessels stopped to pick up cargo in the first nine months of 2021, compared with 959 the year before, although some of the declines were due to additional cargo volumes due to shipping lines, spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur said. Larger ship shipping.

“A lot of people believe in high-quality American food products, and they have demand abroad,” says Sandifur. “The ordeal is taking them through it.”

Jens Borchert, California’s Mariani importer, said German importers have been struggling to get walnuts, a popular seasonal snack, into supermarkets in time for Christmas as train departures have been delayed. delay for six to eight weeks.

California’s walnut industry exported 47 percent fewer shelled nuts and 16 percent fewer shelled nuts in September and October 2021 than the year before, the California Walnut Board said in a report. fox. Almond industry data showed a 19% drop in exports in the three months ended October 31 year-on-year.

Barton said his exports fell about 75% in October from the previous year. A key contract, he said, to supply walnuts for the holiday season to supermarket chains in Sweden, was canceled after the nuts were held for weeks waiting to ship.

SHIPPING SCHEDULE ERROR

Derik Toy, Supply Chain Manager for Fresno Group, said that for Dairy America, a cooperative that is the world’s largest supplier of skim milk powder, transportation costs have increased by 30% to 40% and the The contract was canceled because of the erratic shipping schedule.

Last month, the cooperative had to find a warehouse full of 18 containers of milk powder in Arizona, after several schedule changes due to a shipping line contracted to take them from Los Angeles to Colombia. Cooperatives will have to pay late fees for the containers they hire to carry the milk.

Peter Friedmann, chief executive officer of the Agricultural Transport Alliance, said his 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 woes. However, the congestion has made it difficult for farmers to export their goods across the country, Friedmann said.

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

Three shipping services will suspend calls at the Northwest port complex in December, and ships on two other routes will reduce the frequency of stops there, he said.

The ports are the main destination for French exports of frozen apples and chips. They also ship peas, lentils and about 40% of the nation’s hay exports.

Particularly affected, he said, are shipments to Europe, Latin America and Asian regions outside of China.

“When they can’t export, that really affects the farmers’ ability to make money,” Balaski said.

(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)

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Bobby Allyn

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