NCC joined a coalition of agricultural exporters on Tuesday in sending a letter to USDA in support of the Port of Houston’s request for infrastructure funding to better facilitate refrigerated export logistics at the port moving forward.

In addition to NCC, the coalition included USA Poultry and Egg Export Council (USAPEEC), the Agricultural Transportation Coalition, Global Cold Chain Alliance, Texas Poultry Federation, U.S. Meat Export Federation, and North American Meat Institute.

“On behalf of our members who comprise the ad hoc alliance of associations listed above,” the letter read, “we are writing in support of the Port of Houston’s recent request for federal support to address issues that are severely impeding U.S. agriculture exports through the Port of Houston. Industry has come together to respond to challenges at the Port of Houston and quickly formed an alliance when the situation at the port forced some of our companies to look at immediately diverting shipments. We continue to work closely with the port to address these challenges in a unified and cooperative manner.”

The Port of Houston on January 27 announced that starting on Friday, Jan. 28 it would require that all refrigerated cargo containers (known as “reefers”) brought to the port by truck for export overseas remain attached to the chassis on which they were delivered or be transferred onto another chassis provided by the ocean carrier company that would ship the container. The new mandate is actually a reinstatement of a longstanding Port of Houston (known as “Port Houston”) policy. The port had chosen not to enforce the rule in 2021 due to a shortage of available chassis nationwide that has resulted from a variety of factors. Instead, port employees “grounded” the reefers, meaning that they were taken off their chassis and put on the ground and plugged into refrigeration outlets. They would remain there until the ocean carrier line came to pick up the containers for export.

Port Houston in January determined that it could not continue this policy, since taking the containers off their chassis and leaving them on the ground blocks the access that reefers need to refrigeration “plugs,” or electrical outlets at the port that provide power to refrigerated containers awaiting transfer to ships. Fewer available plugs due to the congestion caused by grounding means fewer reefers can be accommodated, which means decreased revenue for the port. By leaving the reefers on “wheels,” or chassis, they can be moved to an area where they can be plugged in but not block the access of other containers.

Port Houston announced a short-term moratorium to the policy change and worked with exporters of refrigerated cargo in determining potential longer term solutions, including requesting the funding laid out in the letter.

Specifically, the letter requests USDA funding for two year costs to establish a chassis pool lease to store refrigerated containers, funding to install reefer container racks, and funding to create a new “pop-up” yard for reefer storage near docks.

“Industry is united with the Port of Houston to address these issues and urges USDA to consider supporting the solutions identified,” the letter concluded. “The problems are today, and the losses are occurring as we write. Our associations and industry are reliant on the Port of Houston for exports, especially in the U.S. gulf, and look forward to working with [USDA] on ways the federal government can support these needs.”

The full letter can be found here.