US Citrus Growers Struggle During Supply Chain Snarl

By Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
February 16, 2022Updated: February 17, 2022

Some oranges and grapefruit are rotting in containers as the ongoing supply chain crisis at U.S. ports delays citrus exports for two weeks or more in some locations.

Since December 2021, Johnston Farms in Bakersfield, Calif., has dealt with shipping delays and equipment shortages. Some of their grapefruit have been found spoiled upon delivery.

“[The fruit] can be two weeks old before it gets on the ships,” Johnston Farms partner Derek Vaughn told The Epoch Times.

The farm has also exported only half as much citrus this year as a typical year, Vaughn said.

“I would say this year we’re 50 percent or 60 percent down in volume on exporting fruit to one of our biggest markets in Australia and New Zealand,” Vaughn said.

Fruit exports to South America are also down 60 percent, he said. In all, the farm has shipped 50 to 60 fewer containers.

Before the supply chain slowdown, shipping from Bakersfield to Australia would take 30 days. One shipment took 48 days recently, Vaughn said.

Johnston Farms was able to foresee the export issues and began selling more fruit domestically. Still, the company estimates export revenues are down 10–15 percent.

Epoch Times Photo
Tangerines grow on trees in Temecula, Calif. on Dec. 25, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The shortage of empty shipping containers for California exporters caused agricultural exports to fall by more than $2 billion from May to September last year, or about 17 percent, according to a recent study.

“Indeed, we find that the financial damages suffered by California agriculture from the supply chain disruptions exceed the industry’s losses from the 2018 U.S.–China trade war,” write the authors of a University of California report titled “’Containergeddon’ and California Agriculture.”

In a typical year, U.S. agriculture would fill more than 40 percent of all loaded shipping containers leaving California ports. About one-third of those carried farm products grown in the state, according to the report.

The monthly number of containers loaded with agricultural products declined 15 percent at the Port of Long Beach and 18 percent out of Los Angeles, and there were 34 percent fewer out of Oakland.

Meanwhile in Florida, port congestion has cost another grapefruit exporter some losses.

“The Port of Charleston is very congested,” Dan Richey, president of Riverfront Packing Co. in Vero Beach, Fla., told The Epoch Times. “We had fruit up there waiting for a vessel and it stayed at anchor for two weeks.”

One of the biggest issues is the unpredictability of when ships will dock, Richey said.

The company has had “major issues” in getting fruit to customers in Japan, Korea, and Europe, Richey said.

Epoch Times Photo
A woman takes a look at oranges on sale at a shop in Tokyo on Nov. 17, 2015. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo)

“We’ve had challenges where we have had at times decay upon arrival, which ends up being our problem, even though we didn’t cause it,” Richey said.

The company has had to file minor insurance claims for the losses.

Richey anticipated it would take another six months to get the kinks out of the supply chain and said he believes there’s nothing the government can do to ease problems.

“It continues to be a challenge,” Richey said. “Some ports have gotten worse.”

At Johnston Farms, they’re hoping the supply chain crisis is resolved by next year.

“We just thank everybody for doing the job they can do,” Vaughn said. “We’ll get through it.”

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka is expected to update the public about cargo and exports issues on Feb. 17.

“We are working with a number of stakeholders to address export issues,” Port of Los Angeles spokesman Phillip Sanfield told The Epoch Times in an email.

The port is working with the Agriculture Transportation Coalition to help growers get their goods to market.

The Port of Long Beach reported a 6 percent increase in exports in January.

“We expect to remain moderately busy into the spring as we make significant progress to clear the docks and process the backlog of vessels waiting offshore,” Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a recent statement.

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