(Oct. 4) SAN FRANCISCO — The ramifications of the West Coast port lockout are already being felt throughout the produce industry, but more may be on the way. If the ports remain closed, growers and shippers are going to have to find a home for all of the produce they are unable to export.

Welcome Sauer, president of the Washington Apple Commission, said that every day the ports are closed, it’s a hit for the Washington apple industry.

“We haven’t reached the heaviest point of our export season yet,” he said. “(If the ports aren’t open then) we will have to sell the apples here.”

Sauer added that there are other markets for the apples, such as Mexico, that aren’t shipped out of the West Coast ports, but those markets are too small to make up for loss of the Asian market.

“That extra amount of product in the domestic market would be a disaster,” said Zach Schulman, president of New York Export Co. Inc., Yonkers. “They are going to be desperate to move stuff. I expect it could also affect onions that are normally shipped to Japan and maybe even potatoes.”

Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, Fresno, declined to speculate on what might happen with the domestic grape markets and said she was hoping for a quick resolution to the conflict.

Mike Wootton, vice president of corporate relations for Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., said that if citrus is forced back into the domestic market, growers will take a serious hit.

“If that volume has to be put into the domestic market, it will undermine the domestic market because you’ll have a glut of product there and that just adds further complications to the amount of return that our farmers are going to get,” he said. “The benefits we derive from these transactions are ultimately directed back to the grower, so it’s a direct loss for the grower.”

But domestic prices are only one cause for concern. Schulman said he is having trouble shipping onions out of the Northwest because no equipment is available because so much of it is tied up at the ports.

“The railroads aren’t taking empties back because everything is backing up at the piers,” he said. “Truck rates are starting to go up because everybody is looking for trucks.”