Ports of the Delaware River extending produce reach
History, geography, finance, technology, and business initiative are among the factors fueling ongoing growth of the seaports lining the Delaware River. The key trade item in this valley is fresh fruits and vegetables, imported from every-farther corners of the world.
From the historical perspective, New Jersey farming colonists regularly packed their fruits and vegetables onto watercraft to move upstream to Philadelphia’s Dock Street. Undoubtedly, in July 1776, debaters of the Declaration of Independence consumed produce that arrived via the Philadelphia seaport.
In more recent history, the commercial seaport has long received a variety of produce from international sources. But it was finance — claiming the earliest commercial shipments of Chilean fruit from the New York port operators — in the mid-1970s, that put Philadelphia on track as a key handler of imported fruits and vegetables.
It was that fast-growing Chilean trade that started Philadelphia’s infrastructure development toward what it is today.
Geographically, Philadelphia is at a critical corner of the Keystone State. The nickname comes from other northeastern states seemingly wrapping around Pennsylvania. With that, perishable produce has easy access to the most-populous portion of the United States and Canada.
Businesses here took the initiative and applied developing technology to build ports in Delaware and New Jersey, as well as Philadelphia, to be global trade leaders for the produce industry.
Gulftainer, the largest private seaport terminal operator in the world, this summer is closing a deal to manage the Port of Wilmington, DE, for the next 50 years.
In Gloucester City, NJ, the Holt family — operating Holt Logistics — is amid development of Philadelphia’s Packer Avenue Marine Terminal. The Holts also operate the Gloucester City Marine Terminal and are deeply engaged with the South Jersey Port Corp. to develop a new seaport in Paulsboro, NJ.
Meanwhile, these may be the best of times for PhilaPort, which was previously known as the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority. PhilaPort is the PAMT landlord and owns several other port properties.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has appropriated $300 million to develop that Philadelphia waterfront.
That work will be completed by the end of 2019.
Eric Holt, commercial director of Holt Logistics, noted that the ports of the Delaware River over the last several years have gone from being heavy to Chilean grapes to “now handling a year-round business with seasonal commodities. Everything is positive.”
Chile is no longer about wintertime grapes and deciduous fruit. Chile’s produce export list included avocados, kiwi, cherries, citrus and many other items.
Chile is exporting more than 150,000 tons of citrus to the United States this summer.
Holt estimated the total volume from Peru for all the United States will be about 80,000 tons.
“From Peru we have grapes, citrus, onions and avocados.” This volume is “ramping up” over the years, he said.
Colombia has long been a tropical supplier of large volumes of bananas, plantains and pineapples. SeaLand is now carrying weekly containers into Philadelphia for Fyffes. Avocado exports from Colombia are now being tested. Blueberries from Colombia are now allowed, Holt indicated.
“We are seeing some trials of cut flowers” in reefer containers from Colombia, he added. “We have received three to six containers a week for the last three weeks,” Holt said June 6. “We are right in the middle of testing. The shipments have gone well. I believe our share could go to 100 containers a week.” Colombia could export a total of 300 sea containers of cut flowers a week, he added. “There is a lot of interest in flowers.”
Colombian growers have long air-freighted flowers to Miami and JFK in New York. “But, the cost is going up and the passenger numbers are going up, so there is not the room for flowers” in airplane holds, Holt said. He added that fuel costs are also rising.
When cargo levels are this vast, warehouse space is at a premium. High demand is fueling a rapid expansion of cold storage space coming from companies like Manfredi, Dandrea, Agro/Lucca, WorldPack and Green Yard.