Up until a year ago, certain Peruvian commodities could only enter the U.S. through Northeastern ports with cold treatment facilities. That longstanding protocol ended last summer when a pilot program conducted by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed some Peruvian products to be shipped directly to the Port of Miami.
Starting Sept. 1, the Port of Savannah will follow suit.
"Miami started getting grapes and berries from Peru last year," said Chris Logan, senior director of trade development and beneficial cargo sales for the Port of Savannah. "They were the first port to get cold treatment certification in south. We"re replicating that program."
Cold treatment in the south was not previously an option, Logan said, because USDA officials feared fruit flies inadvertently imported on South American fruit could survive in warmer climates if they arrived in southern ports. Up until the Miami pilot, imports had to go north.
"We hope this changes the mindset of importers who have used Philadelphia and New Jersey as a gateway to the East Coast for all imports," Logan said. "Now they can bring it to the southwest directly."
The Savannah program will include grapes, blueberries and citrus from Peru and grapes from Brazil, Logan said. He said, however, that port officials hope the program will expand to other commodities and other origins.
"We missed citrus season because we won"t start until Sept. 1, so the first commodity moving will be grapes from Peru," he said.
Products must be subjected to cold treatment at 34 degrees or colder for 17 days including transit time.
Logan said the change will benefit receivers by brining product closer to its final destination, resulting in transportation savings, fresher products and longer shelf life.
"It"s 700 to 800 miles from Philadelphia to Atlanta," he said. "That"s fairly significant. For a long time, retailers have talked about the need to land cargo closer to point of consumption."
Savannah, Ga., is the largest refrigerated export port on the East Coast, Logan said. On the strength of Georgia"s poultry industry, the port exports an average of 1,200 40-foot refer containers per week. Inbound refrigerated cargo, primarily seafood, averages 400 containers a week.
Logan said the port hopes the pilot will help ocean carriers balance their equipment needs. He also said the port"s capacity for refrigerated containers is unmatched. The port"s Garden City Terminal has a refrigerated capacity of more than 2,600 containers. The refrigerated boxes are powered by 600 chassis plug-ins and 2,016 container rack slots. Savannah is the only port in the nation to use reefer racks on this scale, according to the port.