This supply chain disruption is here to stay.
It’s the product of many problems and there is no quick or easy solutions, supply chain experts said on the January 19 International Fresh Produce Association BB #:378962 virtual town hall.
“It’s here at least through 2022,” said Bill Duggan North American Cold Chain Advisor for Eskesen Advisory. “Covid started it but now it’s about the labor shortage. There is massive congestion at all U.S. ports. It’s not a good picture right now.”
Jeff Moore, Vice President of Sales for Tom Lange Company Inc. BB #:102175 said the national labor and driver shortage is even more acute for the fresh produce industry.
“In produce, we rely on smaller fleets,” he said, and when expenses rise, they hit these small operators quicker and harder. “Rates aren’t going down this year.”
Stewart Lapage, executive director of operations and logistics for The Oppenheimer Group BB #:116424 in Vancouver, BC, said there’s also a cold storage and packaging shortage in North America.
But he said, as bad as it is in the U.S. and Canada, the supply chain problems are worse in most of the rest of the world.
A big problem this month is the COVID-19 vaccine mandates that just started for drivers entering Canada, and the expected similar rule for entering the U.S.
“It has the potential to be catastrophic,” Lapage said. “You may be talking 20-25 percent of drivers off the market. There’s no way to combat that as a business.”
He said even if drivers who are unvaccinated decide to get one today, they’d have to wait a month to get a second, and then two weeks for it to be active enough for the mandate, so it’s six to eight weeks minimum even in this case.
Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain and sustainability for the IFPA, said the Biden administration said in November that a vaccine mandate for truck drivers entering the U.S. would go into effect Jan. 22, but so far, the administration hasn’t confirmed the deadline.
Are there any government solutions to this crisis?
Duggan said the National Guard could be deployed to alleviate the labor problem at ports.
Lapage said any red tape that the government could cut would help.
Moore said the country is so divided politically and culturally that even government-private partnerships like the successful USDA food box program seems unlikely right now.
“The country is divided, but we as an industry can’t be divided,” he said.