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Northwest Apples, Hay And Potatoes Caught Up In Port Slowdown

Tom Harpel

A slowdown in operations at ports up and down the West Coast is choking off the flow of apples, Christmas trees, potatoes and other Northwest products to foreign markets.

Exporters say the delays could have long-term consequences for Northwest agriculture if the problems aren’t resolved before the holidays.

In Washington, fruit shippers have reported sending refrigerated trucks full of apples from this year’s historic crop to the port of Seattle, only to have them sit there for days.

Businesses accuse longshoremen of deliberately slowing down operations at West Coast ports. The dock workers’ contract expired in July and they haven’t been able to come to a new agreement with the Pacific Maritime Association. The union says the port congestion stems from shortages of equipment, truck drivers and rail car capacity.

Jeff Calaway exports Northwest hay to Asia and the Middle East. He said he’s been able to make a few deliveries to terminals in Tacoma and Seattle in recent days, but it was the first time in weeks.

“I got a call from a grower wondering when his hay was going to move,” Calaway said. “And I had to call him back and say ‘We can’t move it right now because the schedule it was on is being delayed.’”

Farmers and shippers said after a full shutdown in 2002, it was hard to win some foreign buyers back.

This week members of Congress from Idaho, Washington and Oregon sent a letter to the workers union and the shippers association, asking them to reach a swift resolution.