Port shutdown jeopardizing agriculture industry

Agriculture is $5.4 billion industry in Oregon, 40% of goods are exported throughout the world.

Onions from Northwest Onion Co. in Salem should have already arrived in Panama. February 12, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
Onions from Northwest Onion Co. in Salem should have already arrived in Panama. February 12, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Thursday is the first of four days ports across the west coast have shut down, and it is already having real effects on local business owners who depend on shipping their products overseas.

“We’re dealing with a perishable product and they can only stay in that container so long,” Duane Olson with Northwest Onion Company told KOIN 6 News.

The Salem company’s warehouse is filled with onions that were already supposed to have arrived in Panama. The labor dispute has slowed work at ports since October, but with the current shutdown, these onion growers can’t get their product out.

“It’s heartbreaking to think we have a product they want but we can’t get it to them,” Greg Bennett, a grower with Lake Labish Farms, told KOIN 6 News.

Gerry Diercks with Golden Valley Farms said he has had to send employees home for the second day in a row.

“Two or three days is a big deal to a lot of these guys,” Diercks said.

Now, business owners are concerned their overseas customers may not come back.

“They’re saying, man you couldn’t deliver this year, what’s going to happen next year?” Olson said.

Agriculture is a $5.4 billion industry in Oregon, and 40% of those goods are exported throughout the world.

“Your reliability is now jeopardized based on the actions of groups you have no control over,” Diercks said. “It’s extremely frustrating.”

As the port strike continues, perishable products like onions are stuck in warehouses, containers at the port and some at sea without the hope of being unloaded soon.

Congressman Kurt Schrader said he would introduce a bipartisan resolution Thursday calling for the end of contract negotiations with the help of a federal mediator. He asked the president to use all the tools at his disposal to resolve the issue.

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