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Pop-Up Partnership to Ease Port Congestion

Site in Seattle will will reduce operational hurdles and costs to make loading ships more quickly

2 Lisa Selfie December 2020 Headshot
Cargo container ship port VIA PIXABAY feb 2021

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced plans for prepositioning containers of agricultural goods near port terminals to help improve service for shippers of U.S. grown agricultural commodities.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) to enhance access to a 49-acre “pop up” site to accept either dry agricultural or refrigerated containers for temporary storage at NWSA in Seattle to reduce operational hurdles and costs, making it so they can more quickly be loaded on ships at the export terminals.

The NWSA includes the marine cargo operations of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma and is the fourth-largest container gateway in the U.S.

Congestion-induced impacts to vessel schedules and prioritization of returning containers empty to Asia have significantly raised barriers for exporting agricultural products in containers, resulting in lost markets and disappointed customers.

The Northwest Seaport Alliance has seen a nearly 30% decline in the export of agricultural commodities in the last six months of 2021 and the ratio of loaded versus empty container exports has shifted to predominately empty containers since May 2021.

USDA’s partnership with the NWSA’s existing near-dock facility at Terminal 46 in Seattle is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Supply Chain Task Force efforts with state and local governments and builds on earlier efforts.

USDA’s efforts to increase capacity at the NWSA follow the Department’s announcement on January 31, 2022, of a similar partnership with the Port of Oakland in California, and a US Department of Transportation partnership with the Port of Savannah in Georgia.

USDA continues to seek opportunities to partner with additional ports or other intermodal container facilities to help American farmers and agricultural producers move their product to market and manage the short-term challenges while pressing the ocean carriers to restore better levels of service.

“The pandemic revealed vulnerabilities across our supply system and as the economy has made an historic recovery, it has put additional strain on the supply chain,” Vilsack said.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is calling out ocean carriers that are taking advantage of the situation to leverage undue profits and are treating U.S. agricultural companies and producers unacceptably. That is why we are using creative approaches to improve port operations while elevating American-grown food and fiber.”

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said this new pop-up port project will give Washington farmers a place to store their products so they’re ready to make the next available ship.

“As the Washington growing season ramps up over the next few weeks, this new pop up port will fill up with containers of hay, grains, peas, lentils, refrigerated dairy products, all ready to load onto ships and reach consumers across the globe," said Cantwell.

"This is one tool to help address port congestion, and I will continue to work to hold foreign shipping companies responsible for the price hikes that are leaving our farmers, growers and exporters on the sidelines.”

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