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USDA to work to restore disrupted shipping services


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced plans for prepositioning containers of agricultural goods near port terminals to help improve service for shippers of U.S. grown agricultural commodities.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is partnering with the Northwest Seaport Alliance to enhance access to a 49-acre “pop up” site to accept either dry agricultural or refrigerated containers for temporary storage at the NWSA in Seattle to reduce operational hurdles and costs, making it so they can more quickly be loaded on ships at the export terminals. The NWSA includes the marine cargo operations of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma and is the fourth-largest container gateway in the United States.

Congestion-induced impacts to vessel schedules and prioritization of returning containers empty to Asia have significantly raised barriers for exporting agricultural products in containers, resulting in lost markets and disappointed customers. The Northwest Seaport Alliance has seen a nearly 30 percent decline in the export of agricultural commodities in the last six months of 2021 and the ratio of loaded versus empty container exports has shifted to predominately empty containers since May 2021.

The USDA’s efforts to increase capacity at the NWSA follow the department’s announcement on January 31, 2022, of a similar partnership with the Port of Oakland in California, and a U.S. Department of Transportation partnership with the Port of Savannah in Georgia. The USDA continues to seek opportunities to partner with additional ports or other intermodal container facilities to help American farmers and agricultural producers move their product to market and manage the short-term challenges while pressing the ocean carriers to restore better levels of service.

“This new pop-up port project will give Washington farmers a place to store their products so they’re ready to make the next available ship,” said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell. “As the Washington growing season ramps up over the next few weeks, this new pop up port will fill up with containers of hay, grains, peas, lentils, refrigerated dairy products, all ready to load onto ships and reach consumers across the globe. This is one tool to help address port congestion, and I will continue to work to hold foreign shipping companies responsible for the price hikes that are leaving our farmers, growers and exporters on the sidelines.”

The Farm Service Agency will make payments to agricultural companies and cooperatives that preposition containers filled with American-grown agricultural commodities at the “pop-up” temporary site at the Port of Seattle. Specifically, FSA payments of $200 per dry container and $400 per refrigerated, or reefer, container will help cover additional logistical costs. The sign-up will be streamlined through a central application process with the details available in a Notice of Funding Availability that will be published in the coming weeks. Payments will be made in arrears and verified with the pop-up terminal records.

The benefits of relieving congestion and addressing capacity issues at ports through partnerships like this one at the NWSA go well beyond the local region, as commodities and agricultural products grown and processed from thousands of miles away flow through the Port. American farmers, ranchers, workers, rural communities and agricultural companies throughout the supply chain will benefit from efforts to restore and improve proper service by ocean carriers; and ultimately, getting safe, nutritious U.S.-grown products to consumers around the world.

“Dairy farmers and manufacturers celebrate today’s great news of an additional ‘pop-up’ site focused on helping to deliver relief for U.S. agricultural exporters grappling with severe supply chain challenges. This will provide meaningful assistance in getting their high-quality products to overseas customers. We appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s focus on continuing to find additional ways to tackle this concern,” said Krysta Harden, president and CEO of U.S. Dairy Export Council. 
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