Holiday walnuts languish in supply chain crisis

STORY: A mountain of walnuts stands high at the GoldRiver Orchards packing facility in Escalon, California.

And shrink-wrapped boxes of the stone fruits are stacked almost to the ceiling.

They're stuck here because transportation and supply-chain problems are still stalling shipments.

BARTON: "This load is going to Germany..."

And for Don Barton, who owns this packing facility, it's a nut he can't crack.

BARTON: "We are shipping right now less than half of what we should be shipping and could be shipping this time of the year, simply because there's not equipment available."

The global supply chain crisis has squeezed ports and is hurting farmers across the U.S. West Coast, who grow specialty crops like walnuts, which are popular during the holidays.

BARTON: "Walnuts are considered a culinary nut primarily, as opposed to being a snacking nut. And so, yeah, the peak demand comes around the Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year holidays."

Marilyn Sandifur, a spokeswoman for the Port of Oakland, California, says part of the reason Barton's walnuts are stuck is because shipping vessels are choosing to skip some ports just to get back on schedule.

SANDIFUR: "What we're seeing is that because of the congestion that's been happening at ports, in particular in southern California, that has delayed vessels. As a result, ocean carriers are deciding rather than coming up the coast to Oakland, California, to skip us and turn around right away and go back to Asia."

As a result, farmers who agreed to deliver products like fruit and nuts in time for the holidays are defaulting on their contracts, losing business to foreign growers.

BARTON: "...we have foreign competition in China. We have competition from Chile. We have competition from Eastern European countries. And if they are able to get their goods to these customers on a prompt basis without the kinds of delays we're experiencing, those customers - (it) doesn't matter what kind of quality California product has or offers - they're just going to say, 'Hey, I can't get it and I have to go someplace else.'"

Barton says his exports were down by about 75% in October from the previous year. And about $10 million worth of walnuts are stranded here at his processing plant, thousands of miles from where they need to go.

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