The best of times for the port of Wilmington

WILMINGTON, DE — These may be the best days in a long history of success for the port of Wilmington, DE, which was founded in 1923.

To discuss this success, Tom Keefer met with The Produce News just days before his June 30 retirement as the port’s deputy executive director.

Keefer said that in 2014, the port of Wilmington handled 6.1 million tons of cargo, which was likely the most in its history.

Fresh produce accounts for about 40 percent of the tonnage passing through the port.

“This is a much different world than when I grew up,” Keefer said, noting that now fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world are available every day of the year. “Demand is growing and supplies have to grow to keep pace.” This proves very good for business at the port of Wilmington. “The future is very, very bright” for not only Dole and Chiquita, who receive weekly refrigerated container ships in Wilmington but also for other specialized reefer services that also call on Wilmington.

Keefer noted that, in addition to Wilmington volumes hitting all-time highs, operation standards are increasing.

“We are working on getting our SQF certification at the port,” Keefer said. “SQF will be the food-safety benchmark for produce at ports. Especially ports like Wilmington. When you have breakbulk cargo, there is a lot more handling involved.”

In Wilmington, the combined volume for Dole and Chiquita is up 6 percent this year. Chile’s winter fruit volume rose for Wilmington by 20 percent this year. Due to a shortened season, Wilmington’s total volume for Moroccan clementines was down 21 percent. But Moroccan clementines for the U.S. market were up 13 percent. “This was the first time our volume to the U.S. exceeded our volume that is trans-shipped to Canada. That is big for us.”

The port’s profits for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, were the highest ever.

“A lot of good things are happening here. We have ordered two new ship-to-shore cranes, which will be operational in 2016. These rail-mounted gantry cranes will be in addition to the two gantry cranes and one mobile crane we already have.”

Presidential visits

Keefer said that the port of Wilmington has received two national presidents in the last year. President Barrack Obama spoke at the port in July 2014. Additionally in January 2015, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and seven Chilean government ministers called on Wilmington — and other Delaware River ports — to celebrate success in receiving and distributing large volumes of Chilean fruit.

Veracruz-to-Philadelphia trade route progress has slowed

PHILADELPHIA — A direct sea trade route between the port of Veracruz, Mexico, and Philadelphia is inevitable.

The timeline for this reality has been extended beyond the hopes of a year ago.

It is matter of time, according to Lawrence (Larry) Antonucci Jr., president of Ship Philly First, a non-profit, membership organization of private business owners who operate port-related companies in the Delaware Valley.

At a July 16-18, 2014, trade conference in Veracruz, a port partnership document was signed to create trade between the ports of Veracruz and Philadelphia.

Antonucci recently told The Produce News, “We are still pursuing it but have taken this as far as we can take it. The importers are motivated. Ship Philly First members are motivated, now we just need to get a boat in the water. We have gotten it to the one-yard line and have handed it off to some very interested carriers to take it into the end zone.” The steamship lines “need to do their due diligence and make sure this is a viable startup.”

Beyond his volunteer work for Ship Philly First, Antonucci runs the firm he founded, 721 Logistics LLC, and its specialty perishables division, J&K Fresh East.

Antonucci said there are basic questions surrounding the Veracruz service, such as if this would be seasonal or a profitable year-round opportunity for steamship lines and whether or not there would be enough southbound freight for backhaul.

He noted the carriers “need enough southbound freight to balance the lane and justify the service.”

He said the members of Ship Philly First “have done yeoman’s work helping to connect northbound shippers with the interested carriers. We all know there is enough northbound freight coming out of Mexico to the Northeast. But the question is, ‘Can we move enough freight to Mexico from Philadelphia?’ It’s mostly by truck and rail now, or sailing out of Newark or Baltimore. It’s a matter of a change in paradigm.”

Antonucci said that New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, which are the three states bordering the Delaware River, “exported over $6 billion worth of goods” to Mexico in 2014, with Pennsylvania contributing more than 50 percent. “We continue to work on bringing shippers and importers to the table. When the carriers complete their due diligence and decide to make the investment, we’ll be ready.”

The new Mexican maritime trade would involve more than perishables, which would be the largest part of the business. Antonucci said that roughly 35 percent of all produce imported into the United States comes from Mexico. There are also large northbound volumes of meat proteins such as beef and poultry, as well as sugar, alcohol and chemicals.

Key southbound commodities would be automobile parts and manufacturing equipment. There is a “maquila” trade with Mexican workers assembling auto parts from the United States. These parts are returned to the U.S. for completion of autos.

“We think a direct ocean service from Mexico will happen sooner rather than later, and our membership will do whatever it takes to make it successful,” said Antonucci.

Opportunities abound for ports of the Delaware River

PHILADELPHIA — There are many reasons the ports of the Delaware River succeeded in serving international produce exporters targeting the United States.

Along the wide, historic river, these ports begin in Delaware, with the productive and efficient port of Wilmington. Nearby Philadelphia features a variety of seaports that serve the produce trade. Across the river facing Philadelphia and its modern container-oriented Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, is the sprawling and highly successful Gloucester Marine Terminal, operated by the Holt family in Gloucester City, NJ. The Holts manage Packer Avenue and are working with the South Jersey Port Corp. to open in 2016 a new seaport several miles to the south in Paulsboro, NJ. Depending on market demands, this food terminal may also serve the produce industry.

In basic numbers, supplied by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, over $5 billion in food products were imported to Delaware River marine terminals in 2013. Compared to other U.S. seaports, the Delaware River is tops in volume of Chilean fruit, bananas, cocoa beans, Australian meat and New Zealand dairy. PRPA figures show that $2.2 billion in fruit imports were received on the Delaware in 2012.

Many steamship lines are increasing calls on the river because of the efficient operations.

In Colonial days, Philadelphia’s Dock Street received barges of produce moved upstream from southern New Jersey farmers. At the time, Philadelphia’s produce market was established on Dock Street and stayed there until a move in 1959.

It was the explosion of Chilean fruit exports in the mid-1970s that led this region into its current leadership status.

Sophisticated dockside, and independent, nearby, off-site refrigerated cold storages blossomed and have facilitated ongoing growth. With the growth came highly efficient, specialized customhouse brokers, importers, food brokers and freight forwarders. Refrigerated trucking companies are geared to serve the produce industry from the numerous major highways running in every direction past these cold facilities. Railroads are in place, should the produce industry move in that direction.

Produce distributors on the ultra-modern Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, which opened four years ago, are a local wholesale outlet for area importers.

After years of political wrangling, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania began cooperative work five years ago to deepen the Delaware’s channel to 45 feet. When the work is completed in 2017, deep-draft ships, which can pass through the refurbished Panama Canal, will call on Delaware River ports.

Philadelphia is gearing for these huge ships with a new container operation in Southport. Specific best-uses for Southport are under discussion, starting with Pennsylvania’s political leadership.

Larry Antonucci, the president of both Ship Philly First, the promotional group, and his own J&K Fresh East in Philadelphia, said the Delaware River trade “is perfectly situated to capitalize on current diversification trends and shifting dynamics in logistics. Our port is within two days of roughly 65 percent of the U.S. population with outstanding access to Interstate 95, and the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes, and all the distribution options that come with that access. We can provide a viable alternative without congestion, port or productivity issues.”

West Coast port matters helping East Coast

Edward Fitzgerald, the treasurer of Ship Philly First and the senior director of import operations at OHL International, said that currently on the Delaware River, “Volume overall, across the board, is up — steel, paper and containerized volume. Maybe because of the West Coast ports’ problems, volume is up in other eastern ports too — such as Norfolk and New York — because of the slowdown on the West Coast. Shippers were looking at different ports to avoid the slowdown.”

Philadelphia Regional Port Authority sees bright future for global fruit trade

PHILADELPHIA — For many reasons, the seaports of the Delaware River are flourishing in international produce trade, according to Dominic O’Brien, the senior marketing representative of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.

“Fruit numbers are doing well in the Delaware River (in general) and in Philadelphia,” where seaports are administered by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.

New ocean cargo services are calling on the Delaware. A deepening of the Delaware River channel will be completed by 2017, allowing the world’s largest container ships access to the ports. And, to accommodate such ships in the future, Pennsylvania and its representative agency, the PRPA, are moving ahead in the development of the long-discussed Southport container facility. “No other port in the Northeastern U.S. has the room to grow” with a massive port facility like Southport, O’Brien noted.

The consulting group Ernst & Young has 15 companies that have responded to a request for expression of interest in developing the Southport terminal. O’Brien said a great deal of research is being applied to choosing the best economic investment to maximize Southport.

The Packer Avenue Marine Terminal is the largest fruit port owned by the PRPA, according to O’Brien. PRPA has “put millions of dollars into supporting Packer” with new cranes and reefer container plugs. “We are proud of our role in maintaining the physical infrastructure and incentives” for the successful facility. Holt Logistics Corp., based in Gloucester City, NJ, is Packer Terminal’s contracted manager.

Pennsylvania’s port trade is helped by new Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who has a business background. PRPA Chairman Jerry Sweeny is a successful real estate businessman and is also helping the authority’s direction, O’Brien said.

Robert Blackburn, the senior deputy executive director of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, said that PRPA facilities handle about a half-million tons of produce. Of this, 40 to 45 percent is volume offloaded by Turbana at the Pier 82 facility operated by Horizon Stevedores. Penn Terminals is another warehousing, discharge and distribution option for fruit.

The Tioga Fruit Terminal has been retooled to serve Brazilian wood pulp, Blackburn noted. The Tioga pier and warehouse were long successful in handling breakbulk refrigerated cargo, but such cargo has largely lost volume to refrigerated containers.

Snapshot of Northwest onion production

On Jan. 29, 2015, the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its Vegetables 2014 Summary. According to the report, Washington growers planted 2,000 acres of summer non-storage onions in 2014, and harvested the full crop. Yield per acre was 400 hundredweight, with production set at 800,000 hundredweight. The price per hundredweight during 2014 was $34.60, and the value of production was set at $27.68 million.

Washington planted a total of 20,000 acres to summer storage onions last year, also harvesting the full acreage. Yield per acre was 650 hundredweight, with production set at 13,000 hundredweight. The price per hundredweight during 2014 was $8.90, and the value of production was set at $106.44 million.

Turning to Oregon, onions produced in Malheur County are part of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion growing region. As a result, NASS provided data which reported on all other counties in the Beaver State. In this category, Oregon growers planted a total of 10,300 to summer storage onions last year, harvesting the full acreage. Yield per acre was 660 hundredweight, with production set at 6,798 hundredweight. The price per hundredweight during 2014 was $8.90, and the value of production was set at $49.46 million.

In Malheur County, NASS reported the following. Oregon growers planted a total of 9,400 to summer storage onions last year, harvesting 9,300 acres. Yield per acre was 800 hundredweight, with production set at 7,440 hundredweight. The price per hundredweight during 2014 was $8.40, and the value of production was set at $56.86 million.

In the publication Oregon Agriculture: Facts & Figures July 2014, it was noted that storage onions ranked eighth among Oregon’s Top 40 commodities during 2013 at a value of $143.356 million.