The continuing labor dispute between longshoremen and terminal operators is hitting Idaho agriculture and ag exporters hard, causing increased costs and lost sales and harming relationships with clients.
Failed labor negotiations between International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association for the past seven months are causing congestion, slowdowns and work stoppages at ports all along the West Coast, said Laura Johnson, market development bureau chief at Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
There are going to be substantial losses, not just to exporters but for everyone in the supply chain — shippers, processors, producers, and even third-party logistics companies, she said.
Not much is going out of any of the ports, and the labor dispute hasn’t spared anyone, she said.
Idaho exports $2.4 billion a year in agricultural products. About $1.5 billion in Idaho exports move by ship, mostly through West Coast ports, she said.
It’s too early to tell how port disruption will affect sales, but losses will be in the millions, she said.
Trade to Asia will be impacted most. Seven of Idaho agriculture’s top 10 trade partners in the third quarter of this year were Asian countries, she said.
Losses extend beyond last exports, and includes storage costs of products put in warehouses, increased transportation costs, and temporary shutdowns at processing plants, she said.
In addition, if export products backs up on the domestic market, it will lower prices to producers, she said.
Idaho’s ag exporters and industry groups are reporting serious problems from port disruptions, Johnson said.
Export volumes are down 70 percent at Agri Beef, and the company has had to cut back operations, adversely affecting employees, said Brad McDowell, president of the company’s food division.
In addition, Agri Beef’s global customers are questioning the reliability of American suppliers, opening the door to international beef competitors, he said.
“We may never fully recover our export business regardless of when this is resolved,” he said.
Standlee Hay of Eden reports losses of $700,000 a week.
Bigger than the weekly losses at Standlee Hay is the risk of existing contracts being voided by customers because the company can’t deliver, said Standlee President Dusty Standlee.
Glanbia Foods is having difficulty getting product out of Long Beach, Calif., and that’s challenging customer relations in Asia, said Glanbia CEO Jeff Williams.
“We’re scrambling, doing what we can to get product out, but you’re limited to what you can do,” he said.
The Idaho potato industry is reporting numerous lost loads, canceled orders, shippers not quoting new shipments, and product returned to Idaho after sitting at ports.
“The slowdowns at the ports are wreaking havoc on previously signed contracts and price negotiations with new and current clients. Container loads have been ordered and paid for but are not reaching their destinations on time,” said Frank Muir, president and CEO of Idaho Potato Commission.
The port issues could cause the industry to lose customers, in particular in Asia, he said
Symms Fruit Ranch estimates its export sales are down 20 percent so far and nearly 80 percent of product being exported has suffered delays.
Docking delays and equipment shortages forced many loads into cold storage at a cost of $200 to $1,000 per load, said Jim Mertz, a partner in the company.
The company will also suffer major price adjustments due to late arrivals and lost quality, and losses will be substantial, he said.
Hay, pulses and timber shippers are also reporting extreme difficulty, huge losses and the threat of damaged customer relations.