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USDA Amplifies Farmers Voices and Concerns Over Transportation and Shipping

Posted by Secretary Tom Vilsack in Trade
Apr 19, 2021
A container ship docks at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
A container ship docks at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) convened a meeting with representatives of U.S. agricultural products and leadership from the United States Department of Transportation (DoT) to discuss current issues surrounding shipping U.S. agricultural exports, as well as logistical and technical concerns. Participants included a wide range of agriculture stakeholders in the livestock, grains, specialty crop, and dairy industries, as well as representatives from the shipping and value-added sector of U.S. agriculture. The discussion was led jointly by USDA Chief of Staff Katharine Ferguson and DoT Senior Advisor Carlos Monje, the key point of contact for Secretary Buttigieg on this issue.

The recent resurgence of international trade has placed nearly every sector of the supply chain under stress, including warehousing, trucking, rail service, inland and ocean terminals, container availability, and vessel service. While this disruption is impacting ports along the West Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest container ports in the U.S, moving nearly a third of containerized agricultural exports by volume, have experienced the worst disruption.

The session today allowed farm groups the opportunity to provide firsthand data and experiences to the DoT team. Participants described their recent occurrences with ocean carriers and the emergence of detention and demurrage charges. Other participants recalled cancelled or delayed bookings, and the difficulty of meeting export demands.

Export challenges began in the fall of 2020 and have escalated to include a broad range of impacted commodities and port regions. Demand in consumer trade has led to a supply crisis in the availability of shipping containers, while refrigeration challenges, lack of certainty in fee structures, and booking policy inconsistencies have all made export of agricultural products more difficult for U.S. producers.

The Department of Transportation team highlighted current efforts underway at their department and committed to work with the Federal Maritime Commission and others to help mitigate these issues facing U.S. agriculture.

For far too long, farmers have struggled to find a market for their products and get a fair price for their hard work. With markets opening back up, and more appropriate prices on the board, we must work together to collectively ensure that U.S. farm products reach their intended destination in the hands of consumers around the globe.

USDA will continue to serve as a key facilitator and voice for American agriculture on this very important issue.

Category/Topic: Trade