By Mark Edward Nero
Agricultural export tonnage has grown a stunning 233 percent at the Port of Oakland in the last five years, resulting in a transformation of the port’s trade profile into a leading gateway to Asia – especially for California growers.
That was the message delivered Jan. 20 by a port executive to members of the California Trucking Association.
“Agricultural commodities now account for 53 percent of our total export tonnage,” Oakland port Business Development Manager Beth Frisher told motor carriers at their annual membership meeting last week in Monterey, Calif. “And California growers are producing the lion’s share of that amount.”
Frisher said that in 2016, farm exports shipped from Oakland totaled 3.9 million metric tons, which was up from 1.2 million metric tons in 2012. She added that California producers accounted for 70 percent of agricultural exports last year.
She listed three reasons for the surge in farm exports:
• Asia’s growing middle class is clamoring for high-quality US farm products.
• Oakland is the last West Coast port of call before ships head back to Asia. That means perishables spend less time on the ocean if they’re loaded in Oakland, which extends shelf life.
• Oakland is the closest port for growers in the Sacramento, San Joaquin, Salinas and Napa valleys who export to Asia.
Fruits and nuts are the leading agricultural commodity shipped from Oakland, Frisher said, followed by meats, beverages and spirits, including California wines.
Japan, China and South Korea are the top three trading partners for Oakland’s agricultural exports, according to data.
Oakland reported a 10.5 percent increase in total export volume last year, with exports accounting for 53 percent of the port’s overall containerized cargo volume, and imports accounting for the rest. Oakland is one of just a few US ports weighted more heavily toward exports.
In her remarks, Frisher said 2017 could be another year of export growth – especially in agricultural commodities. Heavy rains this winter have eased five years of drought, she said. The result should be bountiful harvests next fall.