Ag exporters are pushing for decisive action to remedy the situation with shipping container challenges. A group of agricultural and forest product organizations and companies sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg calling for immediate intervention. The group points out that farmers and ranchers are suffering due to practices carried out by vessel-operating common carriers (VOCCs).
“We need action now; not additional studies,” the group states in the letter. “Foreign markets are critical to American farmers and ranchers with more than 20 percent of agricultural production going abroad. It is cost prohibitive for producers to rework the supply chain and find alternative means of fulfilling their overseas contracts. This impossibility coupled with significant pricing increases explains estimates of nearly $1.5 billion in lost agriculture exports.”
Exporters have been struggling to get products shipped due to a lack of available cargo containers. Empty shipping containers are being sent back to their point of origin due to higher shipping rates they provide, leaving agricultural products behind in the U.S. Export challenges are also exacerbated by congestion in U.S. ports. VOCCs are also not communicating with ag exporters in providing accurate information regarding arrival, departure, and loading times. The group highlights a finding from a Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) investigation, that penalties imposed on exporters for missing their loading times were unreasonable.
The ag exporters are asking the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to help the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) “in expediting its enforcement options.” DOT is also being asked to provide assistance to exporters through its existing authority. Nearly 300 associations and industry groups signed the letter including the American Farm Bureau Federation, California Citrus Mutual, National Milk Producers Federation, and Western Growers Association. A copy of the letter was also sent to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, as well as several members of Congress.