The In-transit cold treatment program, that is!
The dimensions of The Program are remarkable. The Reefer Shipping Market and Forecast 2017/18 produced by Drewry calculated that 79 percent of perishable cargo moved in refrigerated containers in 2016 and only 21 percent on reefer ships. By 2021, reefer containers will carry 85 percent of perishable products, while reefer cargo will reach 134 million tons, Drewry study predicts.
One reason for the growth of reefer cargo in containers is the remarkable expansion of the USDA sponsored In-Transit Cold Treatment Pilot program. With the addition of Port Canaveral, the Port of Virginia and Port of New Orleans in 2017, there are now 11 ports in the Deep South that have been accepted into The Program.
All of these ports are now able, for the first time, to accept, offload and distribute blueberries, citrus, and grapes from Peru; blueberries and grapes from Uruguay, and blueberries, apples, and pears from Argentina. This is produce that has no pesticide treatment other than near-freezing cold treatment at sea in containers for at least 14 days to prevent fruit flies from maturing. That’s because both the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) take fruit fly interdiction very seriously. Fruit flies can be devastating.
Fruit Flies 101
According to APHIS, “Fruit flies in the family Tephritidae are among the most destructive, feared and well-publicized pests of fruits and vegetables around the world.” Tephritidae fruit flies spend their larval stages feeding and growing in more than 400 host plants. Introduction of these pest species into the United States causes economic losses from destruction and spoiling of host commodities by larvae, costs associated with implementing control measures, and loss of market share due to restrictions on shipment of host commodities. The extensive damage and wide host range of Tephritidae fruit flies become obstacles to agricultural diversification and trade when pest fruit fly species become established in these areas.
In case you were wondering, Tephritidae is divided into several subfamilies: Blepharoneurinae (5 genera, 34 species); Dacinae (41 genera, 1066 species); Phytalmiinae (95 genera, 331 species); Tachiniscinae (8 genera, 18 species); Tephritinae (211 genera, 1859 species); Trypetinae (118 genera, 1012 species) and Chaetostomella cylindrical. All of that is a mouthful. It’s also quite important.
To prevent any chance of fruit fly invasion and until the In-Transit Treatment Cold Treatment Pilot Program began in 2013; this produce and all others shipped to the U.S from South America were prohibited by APHIS from being offloading south of the Mason/Dixon line. Previously, most called at the Delaware River and especially the Port of Philadelphia. Then, the fruit laden containers were transferred to trucks for the long journey south past Atlanta and Memphis all that way down through Florida.
New Ports, New Possibilities = Happy Port Executives
“This designation for Port Canaveral is good news for logistics and supply chain managers importing agricultural products to meet the high-demand Central Florida consumer market. With this new designation and the port's close proximity by land and sea to this high-demand market, transit time of produce and other cold-treated commodities can be dramatically reduced to save time, money, and resources,” said Port CEO Captain John Murray. “Bottom line, these time-sensitive shipments will no longer need to enter ports such as Philadelphia and New York only to be shipped back down to Florida. That means, lower container costs, fewer trucks on the highways, and better and fresher products in the marketplace for consumers.”
John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, agrees. “This designation is important for logistics and supply chain managers importing agricultural products because it means shorter total transit times from origin to market,” he said, continuing, “This helps to diversify our cargo mix. It opens the door for new cargo and provides an important service for owners and shippers of perishables. This helps to support our strategic growth plan and further establishes The Port of Virginia as a global gateway.”
Other port executives, from Florida stretching all the way to New Orleans, were equally effusive. “This Program is really growing,” said Jean Elie, Port Everglade’s Business Development Division Assistant Division Director. “Our first shipment was grapes from Peru and was carried by Hamburg Sud. Now, MSC Shipping and Maersk are calling here with produce sent under the In-transit Cold Treatment Program.”
“Participating in this pilot is a significant gain and highlights Port NOLA’s ongoing commitment to developing new business,” said Brandy D. Christian, Port of New Orleans President and CEO. “This program gives current and future port shippers additional options to transport refrigerated cargo, while reducing transit time from origin to the consumer.”
“Peru is planning to increase its blueberry production while also continuing to supply growing U.S. demand for avocados, grapes, mango and asparagus,” says Nelly Yunta, vice president of Customized Brokers, the logistics arm at Crowley, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based steamship line and logistics provider. Yunta, a leader in the creation of The Program, is now looking to expand. “Central America will continue to be an important supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables for the U.S. as well,” she said. “So Crowley is investing in new equipment and additional sailings and will continue to provide full logistics services including ocean, customs clearance, warehousing and trucking in the region to serve the increasing trend.”
Port Everglades, for one, aims to be a big part of that Central American push. “The pilot program is now completed and no longer a pilot program,” according to Ellen Kennedy, Port Everglades Business Development Assistant Division Director/Communications. “Now we are adding a new Ocean-To-Air Perishables Program, first with Guatemala.”
Customized Brokers, the logistics arm of Crowley and Miami International Airport recently received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to coordinate ocean shipments of produce from Guatemala in Central America to Port Everglades, and then on to cargo planes at MIA for a flight to their final destination in Europe and Asia. CBP granted approval for expedited processing of the ocean-to-air shipments in addition to the waving of Customs duties.
A cargo 10 tons of peas, for example, were safely packaged to easily transfer from an ocean container to air cargo containers while maintaining freshness. After the ocean container was off-loaded at Crowley's terminal at Port Everglades, it was trucked south to MIA and transferred into air cargo containers and placed on a Centurion Cargo flight bound for Amsterdam the evening of February 2, Kennedy explained.
The Program Evolves
Things have evolved quite a lot since 2010. The concept for the pilot program was formalized in January 2012, spearheaded by the Florida Perishable Trades Coalition, a nonprofit association developed to increase trade in perishable products through Florida’s airports and seaports. That Coalition is based at Lee Sandler’s law firm in Miami; Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg and managed by Tiffany Martinez.
Sandler recalls, “There were quite a few little pockets of interest in cold shipment, some from companies that no longer exist, frankly. My personal involvement is that quite a few of them were people who I had consulted with at different times. And we always saw that there was a federal regulation that prevented the products from coming into Florida ports. But the state of Florida was the strong arm that you would have to deal with in order to get the feds to understand that the rule could be changed. A number of people we were talking to understood that, and a lot did not.”
“People were sort of bumping into each other with different strategies and different interests,” Sandler recalls. “The key moment was when the Port of Miami pulled together the various interests and we sat down and had a roundtable discussion about how to proceed and that was really the beginning of the coalition.”
Martinez recalls, “This had been going on at least 20 years; on and off. The real headway was made in 2011 when Port Miami started getting people together and then in 2012, Crowley Maritime; Customized Brokers, Crowley Maritime’s Miami-based subsidiary; Seaboard Marine; and PortMiami, Flagler Logistics and some other brokers formed The Coalition and put together a white paper to submit to the Florida agriculture folks.
Elie, from Port Everglades, said that in the beginning Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner agreed to grapes and blueberries from Peru. Port Everglades welcomed global ocean carrier Hamburg Süd’s first shipment of imported Peruvian grapes on Friday, November 29, 2013, while the first direct shipment of Peruvian blueberries arrived at PortMiami in March 2014.
These first deliveries, as with all subsequent shipments, required inspections at every step from harvest to pre-cooling to containerization in specially designed reefers which today must have an array of monitoring devises to assure that crops are kept uniformly cold and constantly monitored aboard ship. This detailed information must be reported to APHIS and to the destination US port. These initial shipments were checked in Panama to make sure everything was cool. And if a problem was detected in Panama the container or containers could either be sent north to Philadelphia or returned, Elie recalled.
In-Transit Treatment Program at a Glance ….
- Among the dozens of regulation required for the In-Transit Cold Treatment Program, these four items stand out in particular:
- All material, labor, and equipment for cold treatment performed on a vessel must be provided by the vessel or vessel agent. An official authorized by APHIS monitors, manages, and advises in order to ensure that the treatment procedures are followed.
- Refrigeration must be completed in the container, compartment, or room in which it is begun.
- Fruit that may be cold treated must be safeguarded to prevent cross-contamination or mixing with other infested fruit.
- Fruit intended for in-transit cold treatment must be precooled to no more than the highest temperature of the treatment schedule under which the fruit will be treated prior to beginning treatment. The in-transit treatment enclosure may not be used for precooling unless an official authorized by APHIS approves the loading of the fruit in the treatment enclosure as adequate to allow for fruit pulp temperatures to be taken prior to beginning treatment. If the fruit is precooled outside the treatment enclosure, an official authorized by APHIS will take pulp temperatures manually from a sample of the fruit as the fruit is loaded for in-transit cold treatment to verify that precooling was completed. If the pulp temperatures for the sample are 0.28 °C (0.5 °F) or more above the highest temperature of the treatment schedule under which the fruit will be treated, the pallet from which the sample was taken will be rejected and returned for additional precooling until the fruit reaches the highest temperature of the treatment schedule under which the fruit will be treated. If fruit is precooled in the treatment enclosure, or if treatment is conducted at a cold treatment facility in the United States, the fruit must be precooled to the highest temperature of the treatment schedule under which the fruit will be treated, as verified by an official authorized by APHIS, prior to beginning treatment.
- The federal regulations for cold treatment are dozens of sections long and can be found at 7 CFR 305.6
- The fees collected by the carrier from the consignee are: December 28, 2017 to December 27, 2018, $142.00 per container; December 28, 2018 to December 27, 2019, $190.00 per container; and December 28, 2019 onward, $237.00 per container.
Timelines, Deadlines & Progress, too
The Program is, as Port Everglades’ Ellen Kennedy says, now fully mature, and it is growing. Port Everglades welcomed its first shipment of imported Peruvian grapes in November 2013, while the first direct shipment of Peruvian blueberries arrived at PortMiami in March 2014. Elsewhere, and in September 2014, the port of Savannah, Georgia, and the Florida ports were permitted to import a longer list of produce by USDA including cold-treated citrus fruit, grapes, and blueberries from Peru; citrus and blueberries from Chile; and grapes from Brazil.
Separately, Port Tampa Bay, Port Manatee, and the port of Jacksonville, all in Florida, joined the program in 2015. South Carolina’s Port of Charleston was cleared for participation in 2016. In May of 2017 the Port of New Orleans joined the program and the Port of Virginia joined in October 2017 while Port Canaveral joined in December 2017.
There is more work to be done. To that end, Florida’s ports have yet to be certified for Phase II, according to Martinez but approval from the Florida Department of Agriculture is expected within a months. Nevertheless, and on Dec. 1, 2017, North Carolina’s Port of Wilmington became the first South Atlantic port to implement Phase II of The Program, allowing completion of the 14-day cold-treatment process at the port. The Port of Wilmington, also looking to leverage the multi-billion dollar agricultural belt that exists just 100 miles from its front gates, recently hosted a well-attended ‘Cold Chain’ Summit, and has big plans in this regard.
“Phase II opens up a totally new dimension for our port and an option for importers to complete treatment after discharge, which is unique in the South/Mid-Atlantic, and only available at the Port of Wilmington at this time,” explains Hans Bean, vice president of trade and development at North Carolina Ports. “The Port of Wilmington has almost 300 plugs on terminal and the capacity to add more. In addition to its reefer capacity, the port also is home to a 101,000-square-foot on-terminal refrigerated warehouse, one of only a few in-port cold storage facilities in the country,” he said.
Shipments of fruit arriving at the ports of Gulfport, MS, and Corpus Christi, TX, for cold treatment must meet special conditions including: “Blacklights or sticky paper must be used within the cold treatment facility, and other trapping methods, including Jackson/ methyl eugenol and McPhail traps, must be used within the 4 square miles surrounding the cold treatment facility at the maritime port of Gulfport, MS, and within the 5 square miles surrounding the cold treatment facility at the maritime port of Corpus Christi, TX.” Wilmington is not required to meet these conditions.
Southern Ports are indeed getting with The Program – the In-transit cold treatment program, that is. And, this trend is changing many longstanding, traditional supply chain practices along the way. Lower retail prices, produced by a reduction in regional trucking and interstate congestion, are among the key benefits. It’s a ‘win-win’ for most ports, an exploding southern consumer population base, and for the liner companies, as well.
Rick Eyerdam is a Miami-based, national award-winning journalist and editor. He is a former editor of Florida Shipper Magazine and has served as an adjunct professor of communications at Florida International University. Eyerdam graduated from Florida State University with a double major in English Literature and Government. His articles have appeared in myriad maritime publications.
As first published in the MAY/JUNE 2018 edition of Maritime Logistics Professional magazine. See the full edition by clicking HERE.