Business & Economy

$5 billion worth of produce could be lost because of port gridlock

“We’ve seen extraordinary losses of all perishable commodities, which rot in the port,” said Tom Nassif, President and CEO of the trade group, Western Growers.
“We’ve seen extraordinary losses of all perishable commodities, which rot in the port,” said Tom Nassif, President and CEO of the trade group, Western Growers.
Stephanie O'Neil/KPCC

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You can debate what’s causing gridlock at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach; The dockworkers’ union blames the shipping companies, and the shippers blame the dockworkers. But this much is for sure: increasing delays in moving cargo are getting costly for California exporters, especially for growers, which are experiencing the worst delays they have seen in 13 years.

“We’ve seen extraordinary losses of all perishable commodities, which rot in the port,” said Tom Nassif, President and CEO of the trade group, Western Growers, which represents 50 percent of U.S. produce growers.

Nassif estimates $2 billion worth of fresh produce has already been lost since November, mostly nuts, citrus, and fresh vegetables. Another $3 billion is sitting on docks right now that could very well perish before it reaches customers in places like Asia, Europe, or South America.

"A lot of our folks have tried to pull the produce, either off a carrier which we can't do, or off a dock, which in some cases might be manageable," said Nassif. "Our folks are looking at every alternative to get goods shipped. Air freight in same cases might be manageable, but in most cases it’s cost prohibitive.”

That doesn’t mean people in other parts of the world will be without oranges and almonds. It just means they won’t be getting them from California.

"There could be shortages in some of the places we sell, but it's a world market," said Nassif.