In Wenatchee, tens of thousands of boxes of apples that were supposed to be in Middle East և Asia are stored in storage instead.
In Elensburg, there is a similar story for the mountains of hay, which would otherwise be container apony և in container ships bound for South Korea.
The problem is not the lack of demand. Foreign buyers want to buy agricultural products from Washington and other states. But due to the strange effects of COVID-19 on global cargo transportation, US agricultural exports are barely moving.
In the normal period. “We ship 10 to 15 containers of fruit to Taiwan every week,” said Dave Martin, export sales manager at Stemilt Growers in Vanatchi, one of Washington’s largest fruit and vegetable exporters. “We will not have a ship this week.”
The lack of freight has led to Stemilt’s huge packing business, shutting down dozens of trucks that typically carry 40-foot-long containers to Seattle-Tacoma ports. It has prompted Stemilt foreign buyers to turn to competitors in countries such as Chile, where apple harvest is just beginning. “Those sales are lost,” says Martin, referring to many of Stemilt’s overseas shipments that have been withdrawn since November, when the shipping crisis escalated.
The global cargo crisis is the latest symptom of a global trading system that was unbalanced even before the epidemic, but is now so rampant that all sectors are in a virtual deadlock.
Since the epidemic began last spring, Americans have spent far less on services such as dining out, and much more with Amazon և other online retailers. This in turn has raised the tide of imports from Asia.
The influx of Chinese goods has hit some West Coast ports in particular, especially in Los Angeles, where ships often take days to unload. And as some of those ships, after being unloaded in Los Angeles, move cargo to other West Coast ports, Southern California traffic jams have caused long delays for exporters waiting to load their goods in Seattle and Tacoma.
“We are now experiencing an unprecedented amount of cargo from the east to the United States, which is causing huge disruptions in the supply chain,” said West on-Wolf, chief executive of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which oversees shipping operations. : Seattle և Tacoma.
But the growth of Asian imports had another effect on Northwestern farmers. Because US demand for Asian products is so high, shipping companies can now make a lot more money when empty containers return to China as soon as possible rather than having time to refill them with US agricultural products.
It is a simple economics. Because the total cost of Chinese electronics, clothing, and other export containers is more than one ounce filled with American agricultural products, shippers may charge more for shipping to the east. The reason is that it is more profitable for carriers to expedite that container for another high-value cargo in Asia than to wait a few days for the US exporter to fill the container with grass or apples or other low-cost products. The pound, the value of an American apple or potato, or “just a fraction of the load on a container, say, Adidas running shoes,” says Friedman.
This imbalance means more empty containers leaving Seattle և Tacoma ports. In January 2020, only 37% of the containers exported from Seattle և Tacoma were empty, according to the NW Seaport Alliance. More than half returned empty this January. (Due to the greater weight of American exports, outboard ships always have some empty containers).
In fact, the cargo to the east is much more profitable now. An average of $ 6,000 per container, $ 3,500 or more for shipping west, so some cargo ships unloading their Asian cargo in Southern California are now bypassing scheduled calls to Seattle or Tacoma to return to Asia.
This means that fewer ships are called to Seattle և Tacoma during the epidemic. In January 2021, ship calls decreased by almost 20% to 125 compared to the previous year, according to the alliance. “Shipping lines are rushing to acquire their ships.” [container] The equipment is being returned to Asia to capitalize on those high-cost cargoes from Asia to the United States, ”Wolf said.
For Washington and other US exporters, this west-west imbalance has created massive ups and downs in the exporters’ supply chain.
Ships are usually delayed or canceled directly, often leaving little time for exporters to reach alternative arrangements.
In the hours before the epidemic, freighters could pick up a newly emptied container at the port and send it back to East Washington for filling, says Brian Gonzalez of FC Bloxom & Co. in Washington these days. from an export company, says Gonzalez. “Drivers can wait all day in the container, դեպքերում in some cases they have been told to ‘come back tomorrow’.”
These delays create additional, costly, residual residues in processing plants և packaging depots. And things are going to get worse as exporters who did not sell last year’s crop are now preparing for this year’s crop.
For example, in a few months, grass farmers in the Northwest Pacific will start harvesting the first crop of 2021. “And we still have most of last year’s crop that needs to be moved,” said Mark Anderson, an exporter of grassland in Elensburg. His company, Anderson Hay, usually sells 90% of its products to overseas buyers, but is now struggling to find cargo space.
“It really has become a complete supply chain in the Pacific,” said Anderson, who worries that some customers may cross the Australian grass.
Commercial economists and policymakers expect the capacity deficit to subside when the epidemic ends, and normal consumer patterns return. But many exporters are afraid that by then they may lose market share forever.
“My biggest concern is that suddenly an increase in exports becomes a temporary problem, now China is going elsewhere for apples, cherries and grass,” said Kim Schrier, a spokeswoman for D-Samamish.
Schreier knows that farmers-exporters have little leverage in the freight business, where only a few large, foreign-owned companies now dominate, and exporters can not be offended. “Their hands are tied,” he says.
Instead, he wants the federal government to put pressure on cargo companies to open up more space for US exports westward, minimizing the gaps they are taking back to Asia.
Schrier says the Federal Maritime Commission is already investigating whether shipping companies are violating U.S. shipping laws, and that the threat of federal action or a congressional inquiry could prompt shippers to “think twice” about staying in US ports for long. to have a fuller load. containers. Two of the port’s largest carriers, MSC and Maersk, did not respond to requests for comment.
“Sometimes just investigating something is enough to make things happen,” says Schrier. “But if not, we are ready to work with the Federal Maritime Commission to make sure we have fair contracts.”
The caption of the photos in an earlier version of this story incorrectly detected the containers posted by the distribution center