By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOTGetting rice from the rich paddies of the Colusa region of Northern California to consumers in Asia and elsewhere is big business for a key division of The Connell Co. and for the Port of Stockton.
Constituting a leading breakbulk operation at Stockton, more than 1 million metric tons of Connell rice have moved through the port’s Rough and Ready Island facilities since the opening eight years ago of the shipping complex on a former US Navy supply depot site.
While the Connell firm made a recent bulk shipment of Northern California rice from the Port of Sacramento to Puerto Rico and some of the product moves in containers from the Port of Oakland, the Stockton port, with its excellent storage and breakbulk-handling capabilities, remains the primary hub of breakbulk export activity for Connell Rice & Sugar Co.
It wasn’t always that way, according to Joseph F. Ravener, senior vice president of The Connell Co., who has been with the firm for more than 48 years.
For four or five decades, Connell was the leading exporter of rice from the US Gulf, using ports such as Lake Charles, LA, according to Ravener. Since the mid-1990s, however, the firm has shipped the global food staple exclusively from California.
With all of the product exported by Connell now originating in California – the second largest rice-producing state in the nation, behind only Arkansas – Connell has centered its breakbulk shipping action at Stockton.
Connell has leased space at the Port of Stockton for some two decades, but the opening in 2000 of the Rough and Ready Island complex has facilitated the current robust level of activity.
In just the first six months of calendar 2008, more than 155,000 metric tons of breakbulk bagged rice has been exported from Rough and Ready Island, with the vast majority of it being for Connell, according to Bill Lewicki, the Port of Stockton’s director of marketing.
The Colusa, CA, office of Berkeley Heights, NJ-based Connell purchases paddy rice – a California medium-grain variety – from farmers during the growing season and arranges for the paddy rice to be milled against one of the firm’s sales.
Bagged rice is sometimes packed into steamship line containers at the mill and delivered by truck to Oakland, but, more frequently, it is trucked to Stockton.
In the case of bulk rice, the product may be shipped directly from the farmer’s warehouse to either Sacramento or Stockton, mostly for bulk export to Turkey, or the paddy rice can be milled and bulk-shipped to the rice-handling elevator at the Port of Sacramento, as was the case with a one-time move in late June of 25,000 metric tons that Connell shipped to Puerto Rico.
Lewicki explained that the logistics chain for Stockton exports entails the bagged product arriving at the Port of Stockton via flatbed trucks stacked with pallets holding “supersacks” that each contain about 1 metric ton of rice. Those giant bags are loaded into one of four transit sheds – each about 95,000-square-feet big – that are leased by Connell.
A controlled clean, pest-free environment is maintained in the sheds to protect the food-grade product and ensure that it meets anti-infestation requirements of Japan and other destination countries. Part of the process to eliminate pests includes the installation of “electronic mouse zappers,” as Lewicki described them, that keep rodents from the rice while not presenting chemical contamination concerns that might be associated with use of pesticides.
When Connell has a contract to fulfill, the product typically is inspected by representatives of a trading company, after which the supersacks are loaded via slingbags onto an outbound vessel.
The vessels usually are HandyMax-type ships of about 600 feet in length and equipped with multiple onboard cranes, Lewicki said. Shipments generally are in the 12,000- to 15,000-metric-ton range, with the vess