Port of Tacoma part of federal effort to ease supply-chain issues for agricultural products

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials on Thursday announced capacity expansion for chilled and frozen agricultural commodities at the Port of Houston in Texas and expansion of its partnership with the Northwest Seaport Alliance, affecting the Port of Tacoma.

The expanded partnership will broaden access to a 16-acre “pop up” site to accept either dry agricultural or refrigerated containers for temporary storage at the Port of Tacoma before shipment.

The moves are to help bolster the U.S. supply chain to reduce operational hurdles and costs, so cargo “can more quickly be loaded on ships at the export terminals,” the department said in a news release.

“Congestion-induced impacts to vessel schedules and prioritization of returning containers empty to Asia have significantly raised barriers for exporting agricultural commodities in containers, resulting in lost markets and disappointed customers,” the USDA said in its announcement.

It added, “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.”

In the pop-up program the Farm Service Agency makes monthly direct payments to eligible agricultural companies and cooperatives on a per-container basis using the Port of Tacoma based upon the type of shipping container.

FSA “will provide payments of $200 per dry container and $400 per reefer container to help cover the additional logistical costs of moving the container twice, first to the preposition site and then to the terminal loading the vessel, along with the cost of temporary storage,” the USDA said.

The agriculture department first partnered with NWSA in March and has been working with ports nationwide in various supply chain relief efforts. The NWSA is the fourth-largest container gateway in the nation and includes cargo operations of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

NWSA, in its monthly report, said for May that volumes continue to be impacted “by ongoing COVID-related lockdowns at key origin ports in China.”

“May 2021 was a record month for full imports, making for unfavorable year-over-year comparisons. May volumes decreased 2 percent to 329,740 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), with full imports declining 10.1 percent and full exports declining 28.3 percent year-over-year.”

This story was originally published by The News Tribune.