FLORIDA PORTS 2006 - Melon grower finds home at Florida’s Port Manatee

By: | at 07:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOTCooperative efforts to enhance warehouse facilities and provide improved operational efficiencies have helped a Guatemalan melon grower find a comfortably cool spot for importing produce into Southeast US markets.
Agricola La Labor S.A. is well into the November-to-May winter melon season enjoying bringing its cargo into Port Manatee on Green Reefers ships. Green Reefers is a Norway-based refrigerated cargo vessel operator.
At Port Manatee, near the entrance to Tampa Bay on Florida’s Gulf coast, Agricola has added to winter melon activity that has been dominated by longtime port tenant Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc., which continues to bring in its melons from Costa Rica as well as from Guatemala.
The Agricola operation, which is separate from that of Del Monte, depends upon weekly service from Santos Tomas, Guatemala, on a vessel chartered from Green Reefers. According to Agricola’s US representative, Luis F. Soto, who is based at Port Manatee, the ship can handle chilled and frozen cargo with both palletized and loose configuration. The capacity per voyage is 3,163 tons, or 2,400 pallets of fruit on 16 decks, with the ability to also carry 600 pallets, or bundles of packing materials. Turnaround time at both ports is 24 hours.
Agricola not only imports melons that its firm grows on its own farms, but also transports pineapples and onions for an associate grower, according to Soto. The melon program is for six million boxes this season, consisting 60% of cantaloupes and 40% of honeydews and watermelons.
“The biggest challenge is to keep the cold chain from the packinghouse all the way to the distribution center in the United States,” Soto said. “On a breakbulk operation, the product is handled up to seven times, exposing the pallet integrity to mechanical damage and the fruit to changes in temperature that can greatly affect the fruit shelf life.”
Improvements to Port Manatee’s Warehouse No. 2 have helped preserve that all-important cold chain. Enhancements made before the start of this melon season included installation of gravity-flow rack systems, high-speed doors and enclosed loading dock areas. The 120,000-sqaure-foot facility includes 50,000 square feet of refrigerated space, divided into rooms of 30,000 square feet and 20,000 square feet each.
The improvements, to the tune of nearly $1.5 million, were made by Green/WSI Terminals LLC, a joint venture between Green Reefers and stevedoring firm WSI of the Southeast LLC. Manatee County Port Authority board action this month is expected to help the venture recover some of those costs by modifiying future lease payments.
The collaboration also has helped generate cargo, including knocked-down boxes and farm equipment, for southbound voyages.
Steve Tyndal, Port Manatee’s senior director of trade development and special projects, commented, “You have a grower committed to a carrier and a carrier committed to the port who is now working with an existing stevedore.
“This is a very, very strong development for the port and one that we are confident will lead to an even better relationship with the grower and the carrier and the stevedore,” Tyndal continued. “It’s a very innovative approach.”
Agricola’s primary UScustomer is Raleigh, NC-based L&M Companies Inc. Agricola’s melons are marketed under other brands as well, including Sol Group, K&H, Borg, Rogers and Dulcinea.
“We have been doing this trade for four seasons, and we have tried other locations, but by far Port Manatee is ideal because of the strategic location it has for distribution and by not being congested like other Florida ports,” Soto said. “In order to be competitive in the marketplace, we need to succeed in transportation and logistics, because the profits are in the transport cost.”

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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including [em]The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.[/em] A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.