Valley growers having issues shipping products, losing millions

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Across the Golden State, thousands of acres are used to grow citrus, grapes, almonds, cotton and the list goes on.

But in recent years, the agriculture community has been dealing with challenges at a level no one saw coming.

"It's always tough in Agriculture," says Western Agricultural Processors President and CEO Roger Isom. "I mean, you roll the dice but man, the cards are really stacked against us. I would like to say there is light at the end of the tunnel, but I am still looking right now."

On top of three years of drought and new water restrictions, the pandemic also impacted growers' ability to export their products overseas, leading to huge financial losses.

Panoche Creek Packing in Kerman is stuck with millions of pounds of almonds that should have been exported months ago to countries including Afghanistan, Germany and Croatia.

The owner says they've never experienced anything like this in their 40 years in the industry.

But the company is certainly not alone.

You'll find sights similar to this one at warehouses across the Central Valley.

"The shipping lines are not coming to Oakland to take exports, so it's backlogged exports for months," Isom said.

The delays have some overseas customers turning to other countries to get similar products quicker.

"Loss of marketplace and sales," Isom said. "I can tell you it's in the millions. I have one member who lost $75 million in one month in loss of sales."

Isom says with the uptick of online shopping during the pandemic, shipping lines overseas are choosing to deliver products to the U.S. and then quickly bring back empty shipping containers - instead of loading up with American exports.

At Central Valley Ag Exports in Visalia, commodities including rice, beans and lentils are typically shipped out from local growers to locations around the world.

But the backlog caused them to refuse orders and focus on domestic exports to stay afloat.

"So can you imagine, we receive an in September of 2021 -- we package, we pay the grower in 30 days and have to push back until March," says owner Didier Vicies. "So, imagine the cash flow of the corporation."

So what is being done to help solve the extreme shipping delays at the ports?

"There is legislation that the Ag industry and transportation industry are supporting -- the Ocean Shipping Reform Act," Isom said.

It's currently passed the house and senate. Isom says it would be a huge gain to get exports flowing once again -- if signed.

He also says growers feel fortunate almonds have a longer shelf life and that labor shortages are not a concern just yet.

Several ports are also working to be operational 24/7. However, Isom says the process takes time since workers are required to have a certain level of experience and certifications.

But he says once that changes, it would be a win.
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