A possible headache on the horizon.
Farmers across the Northwest and Midwest are watching nervously as longshoremen and grain terminal operators start negotiations with far higher stakes than in the disputes that caused chaos at the Port of Portland this summer.Longshoremen strikes are something we normally associate with Argentina, and I am not predicting one here. But It is a real blast from the past to ponder the effect of a strike.
The disputes diverted ships and clogged cargo as far away as Idaho and India but affected a relatively small container port. The grain talks involve a couple of Puget Sound terminals and, most importantly, operations on the Columbia River, which is the nation's top wheat export outlet.
If the talks fail to replace a contract expiring Sept. 30, wheat, corn and soybeans would back up across the U.S. grain belt, affecting billions of dollars in exports and tens of thousands of jobs.
No one predicts failure. But the negotiators, who occupy the narrow end of a gigantic U.S. grain funnel, face unprecedented pressure.
Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, an Iowa-based soybean industry group, said a shipping stoppage caused by any problems with the longshore grain negotiations would hurt the Midwest economy. But he also noted that a threatened strike by Atlantic and Gulf Coast longshoremen, who also coincidentally face a Sept. 30 negotiating deadline, would hurt the national economy.
Such a stoppage by the International Longshoremen's Association, halting container movement at 36 ports from Maine to Texas, would dwarf the Portland, Longview and Columbia River/Puget Sound situations. Shippers would shunt cargo through West Coast ports, unless Pacific Coast longshoremen refused to handle it in solidarity with their East Coast counterparts. [More]