OFB action on West Coast port dispute

The almost yearlong labor dispute at the West Coast ports reached crisis mode this month for Oregon agriculture, an industry with 40% of its production relying on export markets.

Millions of dollars’ worth of meat, vegetables, and fruits are spoiling while awaiting shipment, and truckloads of Christmas trees, straw, and potatoes are stalled.

Since last May, the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Assn. (which runs two ports in California) have been in labor contract negotiations, with little success despite the involvement of a federal mediator.

On Feb. 4, the maritime association announced that a coast-wide shutdown was eminent.

“If the Port of Portland closes, 80% to 90% of our operation would come to a complete halt,” Shelly Boshart Davis of Linn County Farm Bureau told Portland’s KGW TV News on Feb. 5. Ninety percent of the grass straw raised on her family farm is shipped overseas.

On Feb. 12, OFB joined more than 100 companies in signing a letter to Oregon’s congressional delegation, beseeching the federal government to do more to help get
the issue resolved quickly.

On Jan. 27, OFB National Affairs Director Gail Greenman represented Farm Bureau at a meeting with the Agriculture Transportation Coalition and 85 agriculture and forest products exporters. In Nov. 2014, OFB and other Oregon ag organizations sent an initial letter to Oregon’s national lawmakers. And American Farm Bureau also wrote the White House and has met with several federal agencies, including the Transportation and Commerce Depts., to make sure the administration understands the severity of the situation.

Besides the immediate impact of halting ag exports, the crisis has probably already affected how Oregon agriculture is perceived overseas.

“Is the rest of the world looking at us as a completely unreliable market? Are we competitive with other countries?,” said Boshart Davis.

Once a deal is finally struck and the ports return to operat- OFB action on West Coast port dispute ing at their normal speed, it’s still expected to take another eight weeks to clear the backlog of products. Some losses will never be recovered, but Oregon’s farmers and ranchers are eager to get back to business and restore the trade relationships they’ve worked so hard to build.

Thank you to the Farm Bureau members who have worked to gain government and media attention on this issue.