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Ports of the Delaware River thriving on global produce trade

PHILADELPHIA — International produce trade is thriving, and the ports of the Delaware River are serving that growth and expanding services for the global fruit trade.

Countries like Peru and Uruguay are growing in their role to export fresh fruits and vegetables to the United States. Chile remains an enormous produce supplier, with that trade now spread across the calendar year. Central American and South American banana trade is as strong as always. South Africa, Spain and Morocco are building their export volumes to the United States. Argentina, Ecuador, Honduras, Costa Rica Guatemala and Brazil are among Latin America’s strong suppliers of fresh produce. All of these countries, and more, are shipping product through the ports of the Delaware River.

Dole, Chiquita, Del Monte, Turbana and Banacol all ship bananas into Wilmington, DE, Gloucester City, NJ, and Philadelphia, and bananas received into the river are reportedly up.

Summertime — and wintertime — soft-peel citrus has become a major commodity for seaports and their service providers here.

The perishable freight service providers along the Delaware River “do an excellent job” for international fresh fruit and vegetable traders, according to Robert Palaima, the president of Delaware River Stevedores Inc., based in Philadelphia. “We are blessed to be in the heart of a huge megalopolis, which has a huge concentration of people and a large part of the nation’s GDP.” Palaima said seaports in southern New Jersey, Philadelphia and Wilmington have continued to invest in expansion and “there is great highway access. We enjoy a plethora of trucking options. We have great backhauls.”

“We have the infrastructure to cater to the perishable cargo industry and a large pool of experienced labor to draw from,” he said. The close proximity of the key ports “can more efficiently and effectively allocate labor from the government to have inspectors be available to assist the movement of cargo.” If the ports were “more far-flung it would be difficult.”

Palaima said there is an advantage in having port facilities in three states because it involves more national political allies than would be the case if only one state were involved.

Cooperating groups, such as the Chilean Chamber and the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River & Bay can quickly and cooperatively bring new issues to their national representatives. Those representatives are able to “understand these issues and work well in representing us.”

Thomas Holt III, who is in business development for Holt Logistics Corp. in Gloucester City, said “all the facilities on the Delaware River have done well. This is a big fruit port. We have had relationships” with the fruit industry “for 40 years. The facilities are geared to handle fruit.”

Holt said that the stevedores, warehousemen and inspections “are quality people. Everybody works together in the whole system for a superior product.” In addition to a fine infrastructure “we have good relationships with the government agencies whose personnel understand the produce business and help expedite trade.”

Holt credits independent cold storages — such as Manfredi Cold Storage in Kennett Square, PA, and Lucca Freezer & Cold Storage Inc., in Mullica Hill, NJ — for increasing the efficiency of the ports with not only large, modern cold storages but also repacking and other services to benefit the “reefer niche.”

Chris Ryan, business development manager of perishables for OHL International, indicated that seaport operations in Wilmington, Chester, PA, Philadelphia and Gloucester City “all do a great job. We have a ton of cold storage space. The infrastructure is here and our customers know why they bring their freight here. They know we know how to handle it.”

Ryan said the volume of fresh produce imported into the Delaware River seaports this year will increase. “Uruguay will start exporting more summer citrus. They shipped five or six trial containers last year. This year they plan to ship a lot more. Peru is a big growth market. Costa Rica is always a staple with pineapples and bananas. Ecuador is a staple. Chile is huge, as well, and we value that relationship.”