Hurricane Sandy damage derails spuds
Updated: Thursday, December 06, 2012 10:50 AM
'It will affect business, not just for our company but Idaho in general'
By JOHN O'CONNELL
SHELLEY, Idaho -- About 90 percent of Kevin Searle's business at GPOD of Idaho consists of shipping Russet Burbank potatoes to the East Coast, mostly by rail.
As the busy holiday shipping season ramps up, Searle, general manager of GPOD, is coping with delays caused nearly 2,000 miles away from his Shelley fresh packing facility by Hurricane Sandy.
It's common for GPOD to ship as many as seven rail cars of spuds per day to New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and other areas hard-hit by Sandy. It takes 10 to 12 days for his rail shipments to reach their destinations, so Searle anticipates at least two weeks of shipments, dating back to Oct. 22, will be delayed.
"We're in a deadline time window for arrivals for the Thanksgiving holiday, and some of these cars are backed up in yards for logistical problems dealing with what the hurricane has done," Searle said.
Customers may be overwhelmed and cancel future orders if shipments back up and arrive all at once.
"It will affect business, not just for our company but Idaho in general," Searle said. "It's not an overnight fix. It's a drawn-out deal to get back to business as normal."
Though Sandy has created a "logistical nightmare" for GPOD, Searle emphasized his company's chief concern is for the storm victims.
The Idaho Grower Shippers Association made a $2,500 donation to the American Red Cross to help storm victims.
IGSA President Mark Klompien said CSX Railroad placed an embargo on shipments to several of its Eastern terminals on Oct. 29 due to extensive damage to its rail system. Much of the service was restored on Nov. 1, and service was fully restored the following day, Klompien said.
CSX couldn't be reached for comment, but Union Pacific Railroad offered an update Nov. 2, indicating rail customers should continue expecting 72-hour delays for East Coast-bound shipments.
"In that same note, they said of course there were still going to be some continuing delays and car shortages for a time until they could get back to full capacity," Klompien said, adding no timeline was offered.
Klompien said the industry typically experiences an uptick in volume about three weeks before Thanksgiving.
"The Thanksgiving volume is some of our best volume of the year, so the timing wasn't great from that regard," he said, adding some customers have canceled orders due to power outages, gas shortages, infrastructure damage and other challenges to end distributors.
Kevin Stanger, with Wada Farms in eastern Idaho, said his business sent a few truckloads east to fill in shipping gaps, knowing rail service would be delayed.
He envisions some customers in the storm-affected area will have to replace their entire inventory due to spoilage. Others will be flooded with shipments arriving at the same time and cancel future orders. He expects some restaurants and grocers will remain shuttered for repairs.
"I think you're going to see a mixed bag out there," Stanger said. "I haven't gotten a good feel from my customers yet."
Rick Miles, who ships potatoes and onions to the storm area to supply Five Guys Burgers and Fries, said his business relies on trucks and hasn't been inconvenienced much.