The economic fallout from the labor dispute at West Coast ports is beginning to spread to farms throughout California, Oregon and Washington and points east, analysts report.
As the shutdown entered its eighth day, farmers and agribusiness leaders were voicing concerns about shipments of everything from almonds to winter wheat backing up in the pipeline which normally runs to the docks in Los Angeles and 28 other ports up and down the Coast.
In Bakersfield, Calcot was forced to lay off 15 employees because the port closures left them with nothing to do.
“With ginning just getting under way, there was no inbound from the gins,” Mark Bagby, the producer-owned cooperative's communications director, told the Bakersfield Californian. “We couldn't fill shipments, so there was nothing going out.”
As the economic impact deepened, farm organizations were asking President Bush to intervene in the dispute by issuing an order to reopen the ports under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.
“As you are aware, many U.S. producers are experiencing financial distress, and loss of export sales from West Coast ports will inflict severe economic harm on an already weak farm economy,” said a letter signed by 70 of the nation's largest farm groups and agribusiness organizations.
“If agricultural exports from the West Coast cannot resume as soon as possible, agricultural commodities and products meant for exports must be absorbed into our domestic market, having a dramatic negative impact on U.S. farm prices.”
The organizations asked the president to “Use your authority to pursue all options available to you to reopen the ports and force a resumption of shipping while encouraging labor and management to negotiate in earnest toward an acceptable solution for both sides.”
As an example of how far the fallout had spread, four members of the Nebraska congressional delegation wrote the president, asking him to intervene.
“If allowed to continue, this labor dispute will have a devastating ripple effect on all sector's tied to America's farm economy,” said Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel and Reps. Doug Bereuter, Tom Osborne and Terry Lee, all Republicans.
“Meat packers may soon be forced to drastically reduce the amount of livestock and poultry they process. Rail shipments of wheat and other grains to the Northwest have already been halted.”
The farm group letter cited farmers' ongoing efforts to build foreign markets often with the help of USDA.
“Harvest is in full swing, processing plants are operating and grain is moving through its distribution channels. Perishable farm goods, such as fruit and vegetables, and other exports, such as grain and livestock, are ready for export,” the letter said.
“As a result of the continuing West Coast port shutdown, our trading partners are already looking to foreign competitors to provide a reliable supply of high quality agricultural products. Once lost, these exports customers will be hard to recapture.”