With Government Support, Port of Oakland Works to Improve Ag Exports

improving ag exports from Port of Oakland California
Port of Oakland will open an off-dock yard to facilitate ag exports (Port of Oakland)

Published Jan 3, 2022 7:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

The problems experienced by agricultural exports and especially the growers in California have been one of the consistent points of contention with carriers over the past year. In December, the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Agricultural wrote to the major carriers calling on them to address the concerns to increase ag exports, saying that they might refer the matter to the Federal Maritime Commission for investigation.

The Federal government, State of California, and the Port of Oakland have agreed to new efforts to facilitate the export of ag products and meat while again calling on the carriers to also help in the effort. Biden Administration Port Envoy John Porcari helped in the efforts by facilitating frequent discussions with agricultural exporters, shipping lines, and the Port of Oakland while also offering federal support. The discussions focused on both short-term and long-term solutions to support American agricultural exporters.

The Port of Oakland reports that it is now ready to launch an interagency effort to improve the flow of agriculture exports. The program involves the use of additional yard space and equipment, restored export ship calls, and assistance to export users. The goal is to provide relief to agricultural exporters who are facing shortages of export capacity and skyrocketing logistics costs. 

“The Port, along with our federal and state partners, is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Danny Wan, the Port of Oakland’s Executive Director.

Oakland will open and operate a 25-acre off-terminal, paved container yard equipped to move containers off chassis and store them for rapid pick-up. The yard will provide access to equipment and provide faster truck turns without having to wait for in-terminal space. Agriculture exporters will be assisted by federal and state agricultural agencies to use the yard. 

“We need the shipping companies to immediately restore the export lines from Oakland to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent,” said Bryan Brandes, Port of Oakland Maritime Director. The port noted that they are providing the on-shore support needed to enhance the exports under the current conditions while waiting for the carriers to also provide relief.

The agricultural export industry contributes multi-billion dollars annually to California’s economy. The Port of Oakland, which is conveniently located to the ag industry, is the preferred export gateway for much of California’s agricultural exporters and refrigerated proteins. The Port of Oakland, however, saw significant drops in export volume due to skipped sailings of crucial export lines and a lack of equipment for export cargo. 

The congestion in the California ports has caused carriers to cancel calls at Oakland to make up for lost time and maintain their schedules. As a result, ag exporters complained that they were being forced to transport their goods to the southern California ports and even still were having difficulties securing space to transport their exports to Asia.

In their letter to the carriers, the secretaries of the two federal agencies cited these dropped calls at the central California port. They called on the carriers to maintain their scheduled calls and restore service as well as working with the growers to improve exports.

Under the agreement, the port and state and federal governments are also looking at longer-term efforts to contribute to the export of ag and meat products. They committed to better asset management for containers and chassis as well as the continued use of off-dock container yards to reduce congestion to the port’s terminals. They will also continue to work on long-term supply chain strategies and increased investment in critical port infrastructure.