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Citrus Growers Say Port Dispute Could Be Worse Than Freeze

Joe Moore
Valley Public Radio

The labor conflict that has clogged west coast ports in recent weeks has the Valley’s citrus industry on edge. FM 89’s Jason Scott reports.

Agricultural products from the Valley that should be making their way to countries like China, Japan, and Australia are sitting on the docks of west coast ports due to a labor dispute. While the ports reopened Tuesday, their shutdown over the weekend has caused a slowdown that has growers worried.

The work stoppage has hit the Valley’s citrus industry the hardest. Unlike almonds and other products, oranges and lemons are perishable and can only remain on the dock for so long before they rot.

And when a shipment is lost, growers can’t recoup any of the product or its cost. 

Bob Blakely is with California Citrus Mutual.

Blakely: "In some ways, this is even worse than a freeze which we have to deal with every few years, where we have profits lost to the weather. This has been really harder to deal with and may have longer term ramifications even than a freeze might have."

In addition to financial losses incurred by the shutdown, Blakely says the trust between importer and exporter has been damaged as well; and that fractured relationship is just as difficult a loss to bear as is the loss of profits.  

Blakely: "I know that some of our shippers have told us that they have already lost customers to other countries because of the slowdown, not being able to get product they've gone and sourced it somewhere else. And any time a customer finds another supplier, it takes time to get that customer back, or you may never get them back."

Blakely says even if the dispute ends soon, the financial damage for local growers is already done.

Jason Scott was a local host of All Things Considered on Valley Public Radio.
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