A long-running labor dispute has created a big backup of products moving through West Coast ports. Stacks of shipping containers sit at the ports and many ships are anchored offshore waiting to unload their cargo.
A University of Missouri Extension agricultural economist says the slowdown is affecting the U.S. meat industry.
“We exported about 21 percent of the pork, 10 percent of the beef and 19 percent of the chicken produced last year,” says Ron Plain. “In total, over $5 billion worth of meats went out through those ports last year. At the rate we’re going, not near that amount is going to get shipped this year.”
Japan is the largest importer of U.S. beef, and most of that beef ships as fresh, chilled product. With the slowdown, a lot of that beef will have to be frozen, which Plain says will mean a large dock in value. Plain also says that many Pacific Rim customers may turn to other countries if the U.S. can’t supply their beef needs quickly enough.
The situation at the ports has resulted in a shortage of rail cars and refrigerated trucks, and a reluctance to send meat to the coast, Plain says.
“It is impacting the revenue that comes to packing plants, and therefore impacting what packing plants are willing to bid on livestock for slaughter,” he says.
Other affected agricultural exports include cotton and nuts.
Plain says that while there has been progress in the negotiations of the labor dispute, the snarled mess at ports will continue to hinder exports.
“Even once an agreement is reached, it will take quite some time before backlogged product can be moved through those ports and we can get back to the normal shipping time.”