A shipping problem has been brewing at west coast U.S. ports, creating agriculture problems, especially for beef producers.
On March 9, Congressman Adrian Smith of Nebraska and a bipartisan group of 100 or more House members sent a letter to Michael A. Khouri, Chair of the Federal Maritime Commission. The group expressed concern over reports that certain vessel-operating common carriers are declining to ship U.S. agricultural commodity exports from U.S. ports.
“We need more movement there more opportunity for our exporters. We know ag producers across America, especially Nebraska and middle American, in general, they need that capacity to get their goods to markets in a timely manner,” Smith said.
The issue is creating port congestion and container shortages at the west coast ports. While no one is sure of what created the problem, there are numerous suggestions, from dockworker safety and Covid-19 to exporters from Asian countries paying a premium for dry container space.
“These slowdown’s started long before Covid,” said Melody Benjamin, Nebraska Cattlemen vice president of member services. “There were slowdowns happening in 2019 as well on shipping. I think it’s a bigger issue of international trade, but we’ve been told a lot of reasons as to why this is happening.”
Benjamin added about 20 percent of America’s beef is exported, at around $300 plus per head. The export markets for beef prefer chilled rather than frozen beef.
“If we lose too much of that market, it starts to really impact the value of the animal, no matter where we are in the beef chain,” Benjamin said.
Some agriculture groups have requested the Biden administration use the Shipping Act. To provide the Federal Maritime Commission with the authority to prohibit unreasonable, unjust practices and “to promote the growth and development of U.S. exports through competitive and efficient ocean transportation.”