Southeast vegetable growers didn’t need another obstacle to overcome this spring. This latest challenge might be their toughest yet.
Growers and industry leaders have confirmed a major pallet shortage across the country. Pallets are instrumental in a grower’s ability to ship their product from the farm to the store. Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (GFVGA), said all vegetables and specialty crops are shipped on pallets; whether it’s peaches, blueberry clamshells, watermelons or any vegetables.
“If we can’t get pallets, we can’t ship. That’s the problem,” Hall said. “The produce after it’s been sorted and cooled, comes off the packing line in cardboard boxes and those cardboard boxes are packed on pallets. Every pack of boxes is on a pallet as it goes into the cooler. That pallet of product comes out of the cooler and goes on the truck. Everything that’s moved at the packing facility and transportation is on a pallet.”
According to the National Watermelon Association, CHEP, a company that deals in pallet services, has indicated the problem is not isolated to just one specific sector. It is spread across all industries and the entire country. It has raised serious concerns among producers.
“A couple of the growers that I’ve talked to, some ordered early, and they’ve got some in. But they’re concerned about being able to get through the season because they didn’t necessarily get as many as they had to have because you never know what the season’s going to be,” Hall said. “You don’t want a certain number of pallets sitting in your warehouse if you’ve got half of a crop.”
South Florida watermelon farmer Bob Stewart said he did not have to sacrifice any of his crop because of a lack of pallets. But it got tight late in the harvest season.
“It’s a big deal,” Stewart said. “Moving forward, it’s going to be an issue because of all these extra pallets from were just independent people that had stacks of half a trailer load here and half a trailer load there; we were able to bring in and fill that hole. I think all that’s going to get used up because everybody’s in a panic right now knowing that they’re going to be short.”
Why the Shortage?
There are various components factoring into the shortage. Lumber prices have spiked. According to the National Association of Home Builders, lumber prices have soared nearly 250% since April 2020. There is also not enough labor to help assemble the pallets.
“What I had heard with COVID, they just haven’t been able to build pallets. That whole process has been shut down. Like any business, there’s so much loss in it and so much use that they just haven’t been able to keep their stock built back up,” Stewart said.
The shortage could extend into June, according to the National Watermelon Association.