The Port of Virginia said today it is opening its gates to shipments of imported perishables from South American countries, after completing a federal pilot program setting regulations to bar the entry of fruit flies and other pests.
By completing the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Southeast In-Transit Cold Treatment Pilot program, the port will increase its overall capacity to handle refrigerated cargo by 66 percent.
In October 2017, the port began participating in the USDA's pilot program that allowed imports of certain refrigerated fresh fruits from South America, including cold-treated containers of blueberries, citrus, and grapes from Peru; blueberries and grapes from Uruguay; and apples, blueberries, and pears from Argentina.
In the past, those time-sensitive shipments were required to enter Northeastern ports for cold treatment and clearance and could only then be transported to southern states for distribution into stores. But under the new program, containerized imports may enter the Virginia port directly, after completing a two-week cold treatment quarantine process as a safeguard against fruit flies and other pests.
The news follows the 2017 announcement by North Carolina's Port of Wilmington that it had become the first South Atlantic port to implement Phase Two of the USDA program, allowing more direct imports of produce from across the Americas - and other countries in the Cold Treatment Program - than ever before, including fruits like blueberries, grapes, apples, pears and citrus.
The Port of Virginia's recent approval coincides with its effort to expand handling capacity for refrigerated (reefer) cargo. The port is investing a combined $700 million to expand capacity at its two primary container terminals, Virginia International Gateway (VIG) and Norfolk International Terminals (NIT), including more room for refrigerated cargo at each terminal.
"We're the U.S. East Coast's leading vegetable exporter, and this designation positions us to achieve the same success with imported fruit," John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, said in a release. "This is important for logistics and supply chain managers importing agricultural products because it means this cargo will get to its market more quickly."