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Agricultural Transportation
Frequently Asked Questions  
Many of your questions concerning the transportation of agricultural products can be answered below:


Q: What is the cost of shipping a container of my product to an overseas market?

A: Ocean rates for containerized agricultural commodities vary depending on commodity, trade route, container/shipment size, and services needed. AMS staff tracks tariff rates for selected commodities and trade routes in the Ocean Rate Bulletin. Each quarterly bulletin provides a side-by-side comparison of rates and services for shipping lines active in the trade lane for that commodity. However, since the majority of shipments are sent under confidential service contracts, a second publication that complements the Bulletin called the Agricultural Ocean Transportation Trends Report was created. This report discusses issues that affect public and confidential rates, including market fluctuations, policy changes, and trends in service contract negotiations. For commodities and trade routes not discussed in the above publications, shippers are encouraged to contact a freight forwarder or a shipping line directly. Many shipping lines offer free online services for searching for public rates on their websites.


Q: How can I reduce my international shipping costs?

A: Transportation costs can be as much as 50 percent of the cost of an agricultural export shipment. For lower valued commodities, fluctuations in the market that increase rates can increase the cost so much that export is no longer feasible. Therefore, U.S. exporters and shippers are urged to pay attention to the details of export in an effort to reduce errors and costs along the international supply chain. Exporters, no matter the size, are encouraged to contact a freight forwarder. Freight forwarders are specialists in international transportation management. Certified by the Federal Maritime Commission, good ocean transportation intermediaries take time to become experts in shipping certain commodities and about specific destinations. They handle booking the voyage, completing the documentation, and preparing the commodity for shipment. By letting a specialist handle the transportation logistics, there is less chance for error, and the exporter’s time can be better spent on marketing and running the export business. You can locate a freight forwarder by searching our online Directory of Freight Forwarders Serving Agricultural Shippers.

Small to medium-size shippers should also consider joining a shippers’ association. A shippers’ association is a group of shippers who pool their cargo in an effort to achieve economies of scale when negotiating service contracts. Treated as a “shipper” in the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 1998, shippers’ associations are not regulated. You can find out more about shippers’ associations or contact an existing association by visiting the Directory of Shippers’ Associations for Agricultural Shippers.

Information on service contract negotiations, such as boiler plate language, inclusive clauses and surcharges, and timelines, is available in the semiannual Agricultural Ocean Transportation Trends Report.

Finally, shippers are encouraged to learn all the details involved in conducting an export shipment. By knowing the details involved, the shipper or exporter will be better prepared for any mishaps along the way and will be able to better assess the services offered by transportation providers.


Q: What documentation will I need to export my product?

A: Required export documentation varies depending on the commodity and destination. The Transport Documentation section of the Agricultural Export Transportation Handbook discusses export documentation in detail and offers samples of some export documents for agricultural shipments. It is recommended that you first contact a freight forwarder who is familiar with your commodity and country of destination. However, many government Web sites offer official export documentation information online. For phytosanitary certification, contact your local Animal and Plant Health Inspection (APHIS) office.

Or visit the Plant Protection and Quarantine website that links directly to their Export Certification Manual and provides other detailed information about export certification.

Certification of origin information for shipments to countries included in the North American Free Trade Agreement can be found at the Department of Commerce/International Trade Administration’s website.

For country-specific documentation requirements, the Foreign Agricultural Service’s Web site offers Food & Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards (FAIRS) Country Reports. The FAIRS Country Report is a market access report which aims to consolidate general information on the technical requirements (i.e., food laws, labeling, import procedures, etc.) for food and agricultural imports imposed by a foreign country.

Other resources for documentation and certification information include local chambers of commerce, foreign agricultural posts in the country of destination, and State departments of agriculture.


Q: Where can I get information on the cold treatment program?

A: Cold treatment of fruit during transportation and storage is regulated by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine, and their counterparts in other countries to eliminate the risk of fruit flies when importing and exporting fruit from various countries. For details, consult the Treatment Manual. In left-hand column, click on Nonchemical Treatments, which includes cold treatment procedures. Click on Certifying Facilities for information on approval of integral (reefer) containers and temperature recording equipment for use in cold treatment. For additional information contact:

Treatment Quality Assurance Unit
1730 Varsity Drive, Suite 400
Raleigh, NC 27606
Phone: (919) 855-7400
Fax: (919) 855-7493
Contact: Scott Wood





Q: Where can I find information about and certification for solid wood packing material regulations?

A: Wood Packaging Material (WPM)
Wood packaging material made of unprocessed raw wood is recognized as a pathway for the introduction and spread of pests. To limit the entry and spread of quarantine pest through international trade, the International Plant Protection Convention adopted the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures Guidelines for Regulating Wood Packaging Material in International Trade (ISPM 15).

Trading partners are adopting the ISPM15 in their import regulations. As the National Plant Protection Organization of the United States, the United States Department of Agriculture, in coordination with the wood packaging material industry, has developed an export program to guarantee compliance with the import requirements of trading countries. The program insures certified treatment and marking of wood packaging material for international trade, while maintaining traceability of the packaging material. The integrity of the program is dependant upon industries compliance.

Heat Treatment Program
The Heat Treatment Program was developed in order for the American Lumber Standard Committee (ALSC) to implement a quality control program for the official labeling of heat treated wood packaging material with the ISPM 15 official mark to signify compliance with the ISPM 15 standard.

Methyl Bromide Fumigation Treatment Program
The Methyl Bromide Fumigation Treatment program was developed in order for the National Wood Pallet and Container Association to implement a quality control program for the official labeling of WPM fumigated with Methyl Bromide.




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See Also
  U.S. Grain Transportation  
  Transportation of Other Agricultural Products  
  International Transportation Analysis  
  Agricultural Transportation Research and Information Center  
  Regulatory Representation  
  Last Modified Date: 08/07/2012