Ports Are Vital to U.S. Dairy’s Vitality

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krysta harden

Outside the food and agriculture sector, not many people realize just how much U.S. dairy farmers and manufacturers rely on export markets – nor how much the world depends on the United States to provide affordable, sustainable nutrition.

The world needs U.S. dairy, and U.S. dairy needs the world. U.S. dairy is highly dependent on American ports to reach customers across the world and fuel the American economy, especially in rural communities.

Our biggest global dairy competitors, New Zealand and the 27 countries of the EU are formidable. They play to win. That’s why we need to avoid heavy costs and delays in the delivery of American dairy goods.

Foreign markets choose American goods for their quality, reputation and value. But if forced to find substitutes due to delays or pricing increases, those markets are hard to retain.

The U.S. port industry can help the U.S. dairy industry win overseas by supporting a more level playing field against competitors like the EU and New Zealand.

It wasn’t long ago when virtually all the milk produced on American farms stayed on American soil. Today the milk from one in every six tankers leaving U.S. farms goes into dairy products and ingredients sold overseas.

Dairy has been one of the fastest growing agricultural exports over the last 20 years and we are confident that the growth we’ve seen over that time will continue. That’s because the fundamentals that have been driving overseas dairy demand and U.S. dairy export growth for the past two-plus decades are largely unchanged:

  • Ninety-five percent of the world’s population lives outside U.S. borders, with billions in milk deficit regions.
  • Growth in disposable income in emerging markets continues to shift diets, lifting demand for affordable, high-quality, sustainably produced protein.
  • And now, the pandemic has heightened the focus on eating for health and wellness, an area where dairy nutrition excels.

Of all the world’s major dairy producers, the United States is best positioned to meet growing demand. We have the cows, natural resources, technology and ports to satisfy our own dairy needs and much of the world’s.

USDEC members are dairy co-operatives, processors, traders and allied dairy groups from states across the country.

They have invested in plants and equipment to meet overseas customer needs, personnel dedicated to building an export business, and in-market resources to lift their presence and strengthen relationships crucial to trade. There is broad recognition that exports are now an integral part of a healthy, profitable dairy supply chain, supporting the U.S. economy and rural communities.

Stronger collaboration between ports and U.S. dairy, along with port investments that facilitate dairy trade, would go a long way toward helping the U.S. dairy industry capture that projected growth potential.

One particularly vital port investment is an expanded digital infrastructure. For example, the Port of Los Angeles has pioneered an information-sharing tool called Port Optimizer that brings in data on vessel schedules, container locations, terminal opening times and appointments, etc. This data is shared with various port operators (truckers, shippers, railroads, warehouses) and facilitates the more efficient movement of goods at and around the ports, reduces dwell times, and reduces demurrage and detention charges.

More widespread use of such digital information tools would benefit U.S. dairy export efforts.

Port authorities are also often intermediaries with shippers in their relationships with ocean carriers. A port’s authority could help reduce friction in shipping activities and provide longer hours, better mediation or access to information about shippers’ goods, improving export flows and minimizing uncertainty and administrative challenges.

The pandemic has created extraordinary challenges across everyone’s lives – home and business, U.S. dairy farmers and manufacturers, and seaports. U.S. dairy exporters stand ready to work together with the logistics chain to meet those challenges and deliver mutually beneficial growth.

It all comes down to this: America’s ports provide the access we need to take our milk from farm to freighter to foreign markets.

Krysta Harden is president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), where she advances USDEC’s mission to promote dairy exports while enriching the well-being of people, communities and the planet.