The flow of agricultural exports may improve at the Port of Oakland after it sets aside quick-access space for containers, assists exporters, and if more cargo carriers restore service to Oakland, port officials said this week.

Twenty-five acres will be used to operate an off-terminal, paved yard to store containers for rapid pick-up following their removal from chassis.

The yard, which may open in March, will allow trucks to turn around more quickly than is possible in the terminal. Agricultural exporters will also get help using the yard from state and federal agencies.

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement.

The yard is just one step the Port is taking to help ag exporters who have had fewer containers in Oakland with which to export their products.

But it is not entirely clear the yard will make a huge difference unless more ships stop at the Port to pick up the exports.

Shippers need to do their part

“We need the shipping companies to immediately restore the export lines from Oakland to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said Monday.

Port officials have restored one key route to Tokyo and China. Also, four carriers have recently made Oakland their first stop en route from Asia. But that may not be enough to relieve the shortage of export containers in Oakland.

An import surge in the U.S. has ships waiting to offload cargo in Southern California. When they do, they offload cargo that would typically come to Oakland and then turn around and immediately go back to Asia.

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers.”

Danny Wan, Port of Oakland

The containers that could be used for exports never make it to Oakland.

Port cargo volume is typically 50 percent imports and 50 percent exports so usually enough containers exist at the Port.

Many agricultural exporters and meat producers prefer to ship their products through Oakland because it is closer than other ports.

The container shortage has been a problem for a year. The problem recently prompted a meeting between farm producers, transportation executives, Port officials and resulted in the steps the Port is now taking.

A solution is important because the state’s agricultural export industry is worth billions of dollars.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.