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Ventura County

Growers Escape Big Loss From Port Strike

Ventura County agriculture officials estimate the recent shipping lockout cost over $2 million.

October 15, 2002|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Local growers apparently avoided severe financial losses during the recent shutdown of the Port of Hueneme, although damage exceeded $2 million, officials said Monday.

"We came through it with very few problems," county Agricultural Commissioner Earl McPhail said. "My understanding is that there wasn't much damage locally. I haven't heard anything different from the packinghouses."

As the 10-day shipping lockout began, cartons of late-season Valencia oranges were in a refrigerated warehouse at the port ready for export to Asia.

When port operations resumed Wednesday, McPhail said, the citrus was still fresh enough for shipment to overseas customers, although it may have to be sold at discount.

But Gerry Davidson, a spokesman for the Sunkist growers cooperative, said that about 142,000 cartons of citrus that were scheduled for export during the lockout had to be repackaged and sold domestically or turned into juice, which provides little profit to growers.

In addition, at least 20,000 cartons were ruined. Davidson estimated the total losses at about $2.3 million.

Chris Taylor, vice president of Santa Paula-based Limoneira Co., Ventura County's largest farming enterprise, said oranges and lemons grown near Yuma and Phoenix, Ariz., and in California's Coachella Valley, are being shipped through the Hueneme port these days.

Until a final contract is reached between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents dockworkers, and the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents shipping lines, Taylor said a replay of port disruptions is possible.

President Bush invoked federal law to order West Coast ports reopened last week and directed dockworkers and maritime companies to continue negotiating during an 80-day cooling-off period.

"What I worry about is the postponement of the negotiations," Taylor said. "This will crop back up around December and January, which is the peak of our navel orange season, when we export a considerable amount."

Officials had worried that a shipment of Ecuadorean bananas stuck on a Del Monte ship during the lockout would be spoiled. But Will Berg, spokesman for the Oxnard Harbor District port, said the bananas survived because they had been stored at 57 degrees.

"Most of it was acceptable for market use," Berg said. "They were still green when they opened up the hold."

Berg said the port was still getting back to normal Monday. It had two banana ships and a vehicle carrier at its docks for unloading.

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