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Contract Dispute On West Coast Affecting N.C. Farmers

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RALEIGH, N.C. — President Bush announced Tuesday he will get involved in a contract dispute that has shut down ports on the West Coast. The fight is costing North Carolina businesses millions of dollars every day. It is expecially hurting the agriculture economy, and a solution cannot come soon enough for hog farmers.

North Carolina is the second largest hog-producing state, and the port problems out West are hitting home.

Debra Johnson works for Premium Standard Farms, one of the state's largest pork production companies. The western lock-out is costing them a lot of money.

"We have about 500,000 pounds roughly that is sitting on ships or either on the dock ready to go to Japan. From our Clinton, North Carolina plant, we had a shipment that was set to go out Friday that has not gone yet," Johnson said. "It's about a million dollars a week, but that's a small fraction of the total impact on all of agriculture."

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shippingcompanies and terminal operators, locked out 10,500 members of thelongshoremen's union last week, claiming the dockworkers wereengaging in a slowdown.

North Carolina's pork industry is especially concerned about losing the Japanese market, which it struggled for years to enter. Also, if pork bound for foreign countries cannot leave the United States, officials believe hog prices in the country will plummet.

Officials said they are already below the cost of production and cutting production is not the answer.

"If you brought production down, you're probably looking six months minimum, you know, to crank back up," said Kim Williams, of Premium Standard Farms.

Even a brief interruption could have a long-lasting impact. The state Department of Agriculture is not calculating projected losses, but the pork industry fears the worst.

Hog farmers are not alone in their worries. Cattle, fruit and vegetable farmers also may feel the pinch, because their products are perishable.


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