USDA program benefits port’s perishable importers

Published 10:02 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Importers of perishables from South American countries can now move their cargo across the Port of Virginia, following the completion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southeast In-Transit Treatment Pilot program, according to a press release.

“We’re the U.S. East Coast’s leading vegetable exporter, and this designation positions us to achieve the same success with imported fruit,” John F. Reinhart, chief executive officer and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, stated in the press release. “This is important for logistics and supply chain managers importing agricultural products because it means this cargo will get to its market more quickly.”

The approval coincides with the port’s effort to expand its capacity to handle refrigerated — or “reefer” –cargo. According to the press release, the port is investing a combined $700 million to expand capacity at Virginia International Gateway and Norfolk International Terminals, the port’s two primary container terminals.

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The investment includes more room for refrigerated cargo at each terminal. Reinhart stated that both the expansion of the stack-yard at Virginia International Gateway and reconfiguration of the Norfolk International Terminals yard include new reefer racks for each stack.

“When construction is finished, we’ll have nearly 900 reefer spaces at each terminal, which is a 66-percent increase in total reefer capacity,” according to Reinhart. “We have the necessary federal approval and capacity to help develop Virginia into an export and import center for refrigerated cargo.”

The port began participating in the USDA’s pilot program in October 2017, which allowed imports of certain refrigerated fresh fruits from South America. Under this program, Virginia could import cold-treated containers of blueberries, citrus and grapes from Peru, as well as blueberries and grapes from Uruguay and apples, blueberries and pears from Argentina.

Prior to the program’s start in 2013, these time-sensitive perishables were required to enter Northeastern ports for cold treatment and clearance, then transported to Southern states for distribution into stores, according to the press release.

The program enables container imports to enter the port directly after completing a two-week cold treatment process as a safeguard against fruit flies and other pests, as well as acquiring all prerequisite unloading clearances prior to the shipment’s arrival in port. Cold treatment is a process by which perishable fruit imports have their pulp brought to a certain temperature for a period of time to fulfill USDA quarantine requirements.

The approval is effective immediately and there will be many beneficiaries as a result, Reinhart stated. Shippers will see lower transportation costs and a longer shelf life for their products, consumers pay less at the store and there will also be environmental benefits by reducing emissions-related transportation.