By Peter Goodman,
During a normal spring, the sight of orchards bursting with clusters of almonds is a boon throughout California’s Central Valley. Here is money growing on trees.
Not this year.
As Scott Phippen looked out on his orchard on a recent afternoon, he felt a sense of foreboding tinged with rage. His warehouse is stuffed with the leftovers of last year’s harvest — 30 million pounds of almonds stored in wooden and plastic bins stacked to the rafters and overflowing into his yard. Orders assembled for customers sit in giant white plastic bags and cardboard cartons arrayed across pallets, awaiting ships that can carry them across the water to Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
The almonds are here, the customers are over there, and the global shipping industry is failing to span the divide.
Every week, Phippen, 67, a compulsively organized overseer of his family business, Travaille & Phippen, peers hopefully at a calendar showing confirmed bookings on container vessels sailing to points worldwide from the port of Oakland, 65 miles to the west on San Francisco Bay. Every week, he absorbs all manner of disheartening news: No shipping containers available, no vessel arriving, no space on board.
“My warehouses are already bulging at the seams,” Phippen said. “It scares the crap out of me, because in five months I’m going to get a new crop in the door. There’s no timeout in farming.”
Beyond a logistical torment, the crisis assailing almond producers is inflicting deep financial consequences, from diminished revenues to higher costs for storage. The same can be said for a broad array of other American agricultural exporters — from wheat growers in North Dakota to soybean producers in Nebraska — as shipping crops to customers has become maddening to the point of futility.
Most of the almonds stuck in Phippen’s warehouses have already been purchased by buyers across the water, but he cannot collect payment until they make it onto a ship.
“Those almonds aren’t worth squat in the warehouse,” he said. “They are worth a lot of money in Dubai.”
The exasperation of agricultural exporters amounts to the latest chapter of the Great Supply Chain Disruption, the tumultuous reordering of international trade and transportation amid the worst pandemic in a century. At the center of the story is the shipping container: the steel box that revolutionized commerce, allowing unfathomable quantities of goods to be carried around the planet.
Shipping companies — which last year collectively secured profits reaching $190 billion — harvested especially enormous returns on their routes from Chinese ports to the West Coast of the United States.
Read The Rest RIGHT HERE