A new effort unveiled this week aims to address issues dairy products face at West Coast ports and along the supply lines carrying those goods to the docks. 

A partnership between the International Dairy Foods Association, the Port of Los Angeles, and shipping and logistics company CMA CGM will create the Dairy Exports Working Group. That group, IDFA said in a release, will "focus on seaports on the West Coast" but also aims to address "the movement of products from the interior of the United States to the West Coast."

“U.S. dairy exports reached a near-record $6.4 billion in 2020 and continued to set a blazing pace in 2021 due to surging global demand, but the U.S. dairy industry could be exporting much more to destinations around the world if there was more reliability and predictability in the supply chain,” IDFA President and CEO Michael Dykes said this week at IDFA’s annual Dairy Forum. “This type of collaboration is essential to avoid significant future disruptions to the U.S. dairy supply chain that will result if exports continue to languish.”

The working group, says IDFA, will focus on several core problems that are vexing U.S. dairy exporters, including the fact that vessel-operating common carriers – the companies that own the ships – are canceling bookings by U.S. ag commodity exporters in order to send ships back to China quicker. It’s a problem that Congress is working on too. The House passed a bill in December - the Ocean Shipping Reform Act – which would prevent carriers from sending empty containers back to China instead of loading them with dairy, hay, pork, almonds, wine, produce and other farm commodities.

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The working group says IDFA will explore the possibility of “a ‘fast lane’ concept for vessels agreeing to depart full or with fewer empty cargo containers” as well as ways “to aggregate and streamline U.S. dairy exports from multiple suppliers to ensure more consolidated and attractive bookings.  

“I am hopeful that the formation of the Dairy Exports Working Group begins a new period of collaboration among dairy processors, ports, and shipping companies to find market-based solutions for the supply chain challenges impacting U.S. dairy exporters,” said David Ahlem, president of Hilmar Cheese Company.

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