A U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot program begun last September to allow ports in South Florida to handle blueberries and grapes from Peru and Uraguay might have had minimal impact on the Port of Miami and Port Everglades, but officials at both call the program a winning prelude to port expansion.
"The South Florida ports were allowed to accept these foreign shipments as long as the fruit has been chilled for at least 17 days prior to entry," said USDA port foreman Roderick Hunter. "That protects against the transmission of fruit flies."
The program will continue in Miami and Port Everglades during the coming season, Hunter said. For decades, the USDAs Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service had required the fruit to enter at U.S. ports above the 39th parallel -- which cuts through the center of the country -- to protect domestic crops from being infested.
Traditionally, South American produce that required cold treatment was shipped to Philadelphia. Any of the fruit sold in the southern U.S. was trucked to its destination from Philadelphia.
Florida port officials say the direct shipments get produce into the states grocery stores five days sooner than if shipped to Philadelphia first.
The impact on Philadelphia and the southern ports was minimal during the first year of the experiment. Miami, for example, has handled only 16 40-foot-equivalent-unit containers of Peruvian grapes since the pilot started last September, and an even smaller number of blueberry shipments, according to the port.
Still, officials at Miami and Port Everglades are optimistic about their "reefer potential," and new infrastructure will support the growth. A new intermodal rail facility opened in July at Port Everglades. Officials say importers will be able to get fruit to Midwestern consumers more quickly by shipping into Port Everglades and sending shipments north or west by express intermodal trains.
In Miami, several new private facilities have sprung up, including the South Florida Logistics Center opened by Flagler Global Logistics. Since opening its refrigerated storage space last October, the center has handled blueberries, asparagus, citrus, apples, avocados, ginger, Chilean grapes and flowers.
Crowley Maritime and its Customized Brokers subsidiary expect the items allowed to enter the ports after cold treatment will increase considerably. Nelly Yunta, vice president of Customized Brokers, said the company hopes to broaden the scope of fresh produce imports to include Peruvian citrus, apples and pears from Uruguay, and blueberries from Argentina.