A shortage of shipping containers is severely disrupting exports from North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, according to the North Dakota District Export Council.
“Not only are we unable to make sales due to container shortages, but we also risk losing customers that we have developed over many years,” DEC President Jay Schuler said in a statement following a recent meeting of council members. “These are all value-added customers in Minnesota and North Dakota.”
Richland IFC in Wahpeton is having its worst year financially, Rick Brandenburger, chairman, said in a statement provided by the board. The crux of the problem is that loaded containers from Asia are unloaded in the United States and returned to Asia empty by foreign shipping companies, he said.
“All the while, our warehouses are full, waiting for containers to fill. We have been long time customers for over 30 years with these shipping companies. They are taking the company away from the United States,” he said. “They can kick us out of our business. We need our legislators to right this injustice.
Minot’s intermodal port has empty containers, in part due to a slowdown in winter shipping, said John MacMartin, president of the Minot Area Chamber EDC. Much of the port’s business involves agricultural products, and between last year’s drought and this winter’s extreme cold, fewer agricultural products are currently being transported.
The Port of Minot also accesses containers routed through Chicago, which was able to supply empty containers to meet demand, MacMartin said. He attributed the problems of many North Dakota exporters to decisions by shipping companies to increase their bottom line at the expense of exporters. These decisions are driven by the huge returns they are now getting by moving products from China. It is more cost-effective to send an empty container back to China to fill than to wait for a US customer to fill a container to ship to Asia, he said.
MacMartin said the port of Minot could be an option for some exporters.
“It’s just going to take us a while to get the word out about what’s going on at Minot and get them to consider trucking things that way and putting them in containers or having them bring a container,” he said.
However, he added, shipping to the west coast through the Port of Minot is not for everyone. Depending on the rail line used, destination point and various cost factors, Minot may not be the solution. For example, products that are traditionally shipped to the East Coast for transport to Europe may not be economical to ship via the West Coast.
Todd Sinner, SB&B’s Casselton partner, said in a written statement that shipping problems persist despite countless efforts to get the Federal Maritime Commission, Congress and the White House to penalize shipping carriers for direct violations of the international shipping law.
“Without immediate action, the domino effect will be that businesses will go bankrupt, producers will earn less income and our rural economies will suffer. American-grown food ingredient makers have had enough. They are now looking for options to produce their food in other parts of the world due to the faulty and unreliable transportation system,” said the sinner.
Olga Hall, director of international sales at RDO Equipment in Fargo, also said in a statement through the board that she had never in 23 years in the industry seen so many supply chain issues as she had. some currently exist.
“The production of tractors is delayed by 8 to 11 months. Farmers are not exchanging as much equipment due to delays in new orders, limiting business,” she says. “We can’t find truckers, especially for long-distance transport. On the container issue, it is difficult to make shipping commitments because there are so many delays and factors beyond our control. This makes the whole operation ineffective.
“We find that our international partners are requesting air freight over sea freight due to shipping delays and very high costs,” said James Hamel, acting CEO of Swanson, Fargo, in a statement. “Air freight is even more expensive, so both options result in less working capital available for our international partners to purchase Swanson products and with more working capital for shipping/freight charges. We are working hard to manage the problem in the short term and hope that our government and our freight industry can find a quick and reasonable solution in 2022.”