USDA tests South American fruit programs at U.S. portsBeginning Sept. 1, citrus fruit, grapes and blueberries from South America should be arriving sooner and lasting longer on retailers’ shelves in the Southeast U.S. as the Port of Savannah begins a pilot program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot program includes a chilling period of at least 17 days for the fresh fruit from South America to protect against fruit flies, according to a news release. The cold treatment will be done in the producing countries, en route on ships or at transshipment points such as Panama.

Fresh fruit from South America has traditionally been sent to Northern ports in the U.S. for cold treatment, according to Curtis Foltz, executive of the Georgia Ports Authority, who said in the release the pilot program will allow for quicker delivery to the Southeast.

That quicker delivery should mean longer shelf life and possibly better prices for retailers and consumers, Foltz said in the release.

The NOL Group’s ocean shipping arm, APL (American President Lines), uses the Port of Savannah already and anticipates increased shipments of fresh fruit as the pilot program plays out.

“Cold treatment is an environmentally-friendly alternative to fumigation-based pest control methods that emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” APL vice president for global reefer trade Eric Eng said in the release. “Its increasing acceptance by the USDA and other import authorities around the world enhances the overall viability of shipping fresh produce by sea.”

USDA tests South American fruit programs at U.S. portsOne problem some southern ports have when it comes to shipments of chilled produce is less than adequate refrigerated warehouse space. However, Savannah’s port can temporarily store more than 2,600 refrigerated containers, according to the release.

The USDA’s deputy administrator of plant protection and quarantine, Osama El-Lissy, said in the release the agency is working with the Georgia Port Authority and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to monitor the cold treatment of commodities in the Savannah port pilot program.

By shipping the fruit to Savannah for inland distribution, truck-related costs and emissions can be reduced. Cliff Pyron, chief commercial officer for the Georgia Ports Authority, said in the release that post customers have been asking for delivery of fruit closer to the retail market areas of the Southeast.

A similar pilot program, initiated by USDA in October at Port Miami and Port Everglades for grapes and blueberries from Peru and Uruguay, is already considered a success by some officials. It also greatly reduces the time and distance the commodities have to spend on the road once they reach the U.S.

Abel Serrano, a customs supervisor at PortMiami, told attendees at the International Perishables Conference in Miami earlier this year that he expects the pilot program to be expanded because it has been so successful.