West Coast Port Slowdowns Having Severe Economic Impact on California Almond Industry

Taylor Hillman General, Specialty Crops, Tree, nut & vine crops

The Almond Hullers and Processors Association (AHPA), representing the interests of almond growers, hullers/shellers, and processors, has issued an urgent plea to state and federal legislators to help bring together both parties and find a solution to an ongoing labor dispute that has severely impacted almond shipments in and out of West Coast ports.

The labor dispute between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has created a slowdown in loading and unloading cargo ships at West Coast ports, causing severe economic hardship to the multi-billion dollar California almond industry, said APHA President Kelly Covello. “Approximately 70 percent of California almonds are exported and nearly 80 percent of bulk almond exports by value are exported from the Port of Oakland,” she noted. “Bulk almonds alone accounted for nearly 16 percent of the $20.1 billion in goods exported from the Port of Oakland in 2013.”

The California almond industry provides nearly $22 billion in economic output and supports over 100,000 jobs directly and indirectly, of which 97,000 jobs are located in the Central Valley, according to a UC Davis economic study released in December 2014.

The ongoing slowdown in loading and unloading vessels has resulted in almond handlers and shippers reporting hundreds of containers delayed, dozens of cancelled orders, several rerouted orders at considerably greater expense, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in congestion and other charges, according to Covello.

“We have received many reports from our members of long delays in getting their product shipped out of the ports, followed by cancellations of orders, congestion charges and storage fees,” explained Covello. “Those added costs are of course of concern. But of even more concern is the loss of trust between shippers and buyers resulting from these delays and cancellations. Importers and buyers expect a certain level of reliability and predictability and that trust is being eroded by this ongoing slowdown.”

AHPA has joined the West Coast Port Labor Negotiations Coalition which recently sent a letter urging the PMA and ILWU to take into account how the slowdown is affecting the economic future of a vast array of industries, and called on the federal government to consider all available remedies to bring a rapid end to the dispute.

Covello praised the efforts of Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Nicolaus) and Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gebrer) for a joint bipartisan letter signed by 39 members of the Legislature to PMA and ILWU urging a swift resolution and highlighting the impact the slowdown has had on the California agriculture industry. “We appreciate these bipartisan legislative efforts which are helping to focus attention on this critical issue,” said Covello. “We are calling on our state and federal representatives to become educated on this critical issue and help move the parties towards a timely resolution of their differences.”

AHPA is also working closely with the Almond Board of California, a federal marketing order, as it seeks to educate key policy makers about the vast economic impact of the slowdown. The Almond Board has sent letters to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office and is drafting letters to the Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman pointing out that almonds are the United States’ largest specialty crop export, reaching over $4 billion in 2013. The Almond Board is engaged in an extensive fact gathering effort to document the impact on California’s 6.500 almond growers and 105 handlers.

“This continuing slowdown is having extensive negative consequences for not only almonds but a wide range of products that rely on the free flow of global commerce,” said Covello. “We call on all parties to come to the table and resolve this dispute quickly.”