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Portland Port Loses N.W. Fruit Growers

by Associated Press
Corvallis Gazette-Times, September 27, 2004

THE DALLES -- Fruit growers exporting pears, cherries and apples from their mid-Columbia River orchards to overseas markets ship most of their fruit from the Puget Sound in Washington instead of Portland.

Each load costs growers hundreds of dollars more because of the added mileage, but growers said the Port of Portland doesn't compare with its counterpart to the north.

"They have more ships going out on a schedule,'' said Bob Bailey, owner of Orchard View Farms in The Dalles. "Our fruit needs to go. It can't sit on the dock.''

The path to the Puget Sound is about to get busier because two of the Port of Portland's container shipping companies will be gone by the end of the year. Hyundai Merchant Marine left Portland as of last Thursday, and "K'' Line America said it will leave in December.

Bailey said a 40-foot container of cherries is worth as much as $80,000 for his operation. He ships about 70 of them overseas annually, worth $5.6 million. The company shipped only five of those containers through Portland this season.

About 720 shipping containers full of pears are grown in Oregon for export annually, according to Pear Bureau Northwest in Milwaukie. About 10 percent of those end up being shipped out of Portland.

Even before the loss of Hyundai and "K'' Line, the number of barges carrying agriculture products down the Columbia River to Portland had declined, according to Port of Portland statistics.

The reasons for the drop in barges vary, said Port spokesman Eric Hedaa. After the Port lost Evergreen Shipping in 2001, and a labor lockout shut down barge service for a time in 2003, some agriculture producers started trucking to the Puget Sound.

The Port of Portland calls the loss of exports to another port "leakage,'' and it estimated that 40 percent of export cargo that could leave from Portland, departs from other ports instead.

Depending on the quality of the harvest, Bailey said he flies, via commercial airline, roughly 30 percent of his cherries overseas. But with relatively few direct flights out of Portland International Airport, he still has to truck the fruit to Seattle.

Forty countries import Oregon pears, said Jeff Correa, international marketing director of Pear Bureau Northwest. He said the shift to the Puget Sound began with the lack of empty refrigerated containers in Portland.

It's an old problem that continues because the Port draws few importers, which bring the empty containers, Hedaa said.

"We're working hard to regain our carrier service levels we've had in the past,'' Hedaa said.

Associated Press
Portland Port Loses N.W. Fruit Growers
Corvallis Gazette-Times, September 27, 2004

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