Peruvian asparagus importers face transportation issues
The process of moving fresh asparagus from Peru to the U.S. is increasingly costly and challenging, and shipping the vegetable from importers’ warehouses to customers’ distribution centers in the U.S. isn’t a piece of cake, either.
“There are increased costs of logistics for ocean freight, air freight and domestic freight,” said Tracy Wood, vice president of sales for Vero Beach-based Seven Seas Florida. The cost of transporting Peruvian asparagus by cargo ship has increased from 15% to 25% — $1,000 to $1,500 — over the past year, he said.
Delays averaged about one day — loading in Peru, traversing the Panama Canal or unloading in Florida — he said. At the same time, reefer containers have been in short supply worldwide, perhaps because many are sitting on ships waiting to be unloaded, Wood said.
Truck prices in the U.S. also have increased 40% to 50%, he said, easily adding $1 or $2 to the cost of a carton of Peruvian asparagus.
“As far as growers go, the only thing that’s been hurting the industry has been the inconsistent logistics – the supply chain,” said Jeff Friedman, president of Carb Americas Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “Whether it’s late boats, late airplanes, no airplanes and/or lack of controlled-atmosphere containers, that’s been the topic so far this year,” he said. It’s not unusual for a ship that used to dock on Thursday morning now not to dock until Friday night, he said. “That’s causing havoc.”
At Ayco Farms Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., imports manager Alejandro Pietri said rates for international ocean transportation are increasing every month. The price of securing trucks also has risen, and they’re sometimes hard to come by, especially for airport runs, since drivers may be reluctant to wait for Peruvian asparagus to be fumigated, as mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To cope with the dilemma, Ayco Farms is looking at setting up its own trucking system, Pietri said.
Importing Peruvian asparagus by air has become a challenge for Calexico, Calif.-based Altar Produce LLC, said president Chris Ramirez. In the past, the company flew in 70% of its product and the remaining 30% came in by ship. Now, thanks to logistics issues spurred by COVID-19 and pricing pressures brought about by competition from Mexican product, 80% of the company’s Peruvian asparagus is brought to the U.S. on cargo ships, he said.
Even ocean shipments are a struggle because of tight availability of shipping containers. Ramirez is hopeful that the transportation sector will start to return to a state of normalcy by the middle of 2022. “It’s going to be a process,” he said.
Pompano Beach-based Southern Specialties Inc. flew in more Peruvian asparagus than most importers, said Charlie Eagle, vice president, business development. However, the number of flights has dwindled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But even as the number of passenger planes has been reduced, the ocean shipping lines “have done a good job of paying attention to product and shipping it as expeditiously as possible in good containers that maintain the cold chain,” he said.
Ports in southern Florida have not experienced the logjams that have plagued West Coast facilities, said Frank Ramos, president and CEO at The Perishable Specialist Inc., a Miami-based customs broker. In general, he said, “The shipping lines (in Florida) are doing their part, and we’re still operating at what you could call normal.”
The trucking situation is a different story. “Anybody that’s in the business that tells you they’re not having truck problems or truck shortages is very lucky or not aware of what’s really going on,” he said. The company is getting its product moved, he said, “But there are backlogs.” And trucks are getting more costly. “The prices have gone through the roof,” Ramos said. The trucking industry is an important part of the supply chain that has been unappreciated for years, he said.
Ramos does not expect the new, higher rates to fall back down. “I don’t see that when a charge goes up to where it should be, that it will ever come back down.” He said he wonders how the trucking industry will ever regain enough drivers to deliver the nation’s goods.
“Old-school truckers are aging out, they’re retiring,” he said, and parents, himself included, are encouraging their children to pursue other careers, like doctors, lawyers and architects. “There is not a (big) pool coming in to be truck drivers,” he said.