Jul 26, 2022
PMSA says California nut exports via California ports are rising

There’s a controversy over California nuts. Specifically, nuts exported through California ports. Are the export nut totals up or down? Are the nut exports being diverted to other ports as has been suggested by media reports?

According to the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association’s (PMSA) West Coast Trade Report for June 2022 California tree nut exports shipped through California ports, including the Port of Oakland, are rising, and there is little evidence that exporters are utilizing the Port of Houston as an alternative export port.

PMSA says tree nut export tonnages shipped via California ports during the second quarter, 2022, are way above 2021 levels:

  • Almonds (+21.9%)
  • Walnuts (+40.9%),
  • Pistachios (+53.6%).

The PMSA report said almond exports shipped through California ports had risen by 29.4% in May 2022 up from May 2021 and cited the Almond Board of California reporting that almond exports in June were up by 38.3% up from June 2021.

A spokesperson for the Almond Board of California (ABC) confirms these export increases: “The May and June almond export figures were record months for May and June. There has been a log jam at the ports, but that situation seems to be getting better. Nobody is saying that the crisis is over, but there are hopeful signals. Normally, our best months have been in the fall, but this year we have had these record numbers in May and June. June wasn’t usually such a great month, but this year it has been. Demand for almonds remains high and you are seeing this reflected in these export figures.”

The PMSA report says that problems at California ports have been exaggerated: “One allegation has it that tree nut shipments are being stymied by California’s ports and by the ocean carriers serving those ports. As a result, growers are stuck with enormous unsold inventories and have had their reputations as reliable sources of tree nuts tarnished. A related assertion is that inhospitable conditions at California’s ports – either too many vessels or too few, shipping lines with their own imperatives, and the prospect that obstreperous dockworkers or truckers could disrupt West Coast port operations this summer – have compelled the state’s tree nut exporters to divert substantial volumes of their overseas shipments to other U.S. ports, most notably the Port of Houston.”

The PMSA report goes on to say that few shipments have been diverted to the Port of Houston: “Houston not only handled a mere 0.95% of the nation’s total almond export tonnage in May (the latest month for which port-of-export data are available), but the 893.7 metric tons of almonds that were shipped from Houston that month was down 14.4% from a year earlier. By comparison, the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles handled 16,502 metric tons, while 76,093 metric tons of almonds were shipped from the Port of Oakland. In the end, the three major maritime gateways in California handled 98.6% of all of the nation’s ocean borne exports of almonds, California’s single most-valuable agricultural export.”

PMSA reported walnut exports through California ports, including Oakland, are also up: “On July 8, CNBC aired a report featuring interviews with walnut shippers upset with their alleged inability to move product to overseas customers through the Port of Oakland. What was particularly weird about this report was not merely that the reporter was plainly unaware of May’s huge bump in walnut exports. It was that the California Walnut Board was simultaneously releasing shipment numbers for June, which showed walnut exports up 47.8% from a year earlier.”

The California Walnut Board’s data confirms that walnut exports for June 2022 were up compared to June 2021, but not by 47.8%. The board reported that June 2022 exports of shelled walnuts were up: 31.06% from June 2021. According to the board’s figures, shelled exports in June 2022 totaled 22,950,153 pounds compared to June 2021, when exports totaled 17,511,818 pounds.

In addition, year to date exports of walnuts for the period September 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022 were up as well, but only by 4.54%.

– Stas Margaronis, American Journal of Transportation

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