USDA Helps Launch New Oakland Container Yard for Ag Exports 

USDA funds new ag container yard for exports at Port of Oakland
USDA is helping to fund the new container yard for ag shippments (Port of Oakland file photo)

Published Jan 31, 2022 6:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with the Port of Oakland to create a new container yard specifically designed to support agricultural shipments through the port. The agency said it would provide funding to establish the yard as well as financial subsidies for growers using the facility in its latest effort to improve exports of locally grown agricultural products. 

The USDA along with the U.S. Department of Transportation in December urged the world’s leading ocean carriers to help mitigate disruptions to agricultural shippers by restoring reciprocal treatment of imports and exports and improving service. According to the agencies, which threatened the carriers with further examination and action by the Federal Maritime Commission, carriers have made fewer containers available for U.S. agricultural commodities, repeatedly changed return dates, and charged unjust fees that short-circuited the usual pathways while carriers rushed containers back to be exported empty. They also cited the suspending of service to the Port of Oakland, noting that at least one carrier has recently announced plans to resume previously suspended service to Oakland.

At the same time, the USDA says it has been actively developing options to alleviate market disruptions for agricultural producers. Under the new partnership with the Port of Oakland, a new 25-acre “pop-up” site will be opened in March to make it easier for agricultural companies to fill empty shipping containers with commodities.

USDA will cover 60 percent of the start-up costs, which they said reflects the historical share of agricultural products that are marketed through the Port of Oakland. The USDA will also help cover additional movement logistics costs at $125 per container. They also expect the effort will result in fewer unpredictable congestion surcharges for trucks.

The site will provide space to prepare empty containers making access easier for agricultural companies and cooperatives to containers. The new site will also have a dedicated gate with the ability to pre-cool refrigerated shipping containers to receive perishable commodities while avoiding bottlenecks that would have resulted from entering the main area of the port.

Reuters is reporting that the USDA estimated the project will cost about $5 million, and the port said the initial start-up will cost about $2 million. DOT and USDA both hailed the effort pointing to the success with a similar pop-up yard opened late in 2021 at Savannah, Georgia that helped to elevate congestion while saying the program could also serve as a model for similar programs to help elsewhere along the supply chain.

The Port of Oakland also welcomed the program as a means of helping it recover from some of the effects of the supply chain on its operations. The port’s export volumes fell eight percent in 2021 as shipping lines suspended service and ships skipped port calls to make up for time lost waiting for terminal space at the southern California ports. 

The California Department of Food and Agriculture thanked the port and federal government for their joint efforts saying it would be especially helpful with the state’s high-value specialty crops.  They said that the problems for exports were hurting shipments of California’s products including nuts, dairy and produce.