Chaos at Sea and Beyond

It’s no secret COVID-19 has changed the world. Daily routines, social distancing, business models and personal health have been tested at every corner of our planet. This global pandemic has changed the world and has us all appreciating happier days, longing for our lifestyles to return. Optimistic that vaccines will help calm our fears and begin the restoration of what once was, only time will tell?

Recently I was sent a fascinating article by my friend Andy, (general manager/grower of an extremely successful garden center in Pennsylvania), written by Peter S. Goodman, Alexandra Stevenson, Niraj Chokshi and Michael Corkery for The New York Times. A brilliantly written piece, it explains the disruption of international trade, the costs associated with such and “adding a fresh challenge to the global economic recovery.” Superb language use describes how “the virus” has “thrown off the choreography of moving cargo from one continent to another.” Most of us, at this point, can appreciate that it is taking longer to order a particular product from our couch and have it shipped expeditiously to our front door. My friend, “Danny B.” certainly will attest to this as he waited several months to obtain his Peloton bike. Freight, whether it be by rail, over pavement, on water or in the air has simply skyrocketed. Moreover, commodities such as office furniture, treadmills, flat panel displays, laptops, smartphones and ovens seem to be floating aimlessly “in towering stacks atop enormous vessels” as “the demand for shipping has outstripped the availability of containers.” Empty containers “piled up” in the furthest parts of the globe, workers sickened with COVID-19, a shortage of trucks and drivers, “the pandemic has disrupted every part of the journey.” And if things weren’t bad enough, most recently, a massive container ship, Ever Given, was recently dislodged on the Suez Canal. The vast container ship blocked the critical waterway for some 6 days, pushing global supply delays even further.

To the point, what does all this mean for the green industry? Simply put, we will all be paying more for goods as we try to beautify our outdoor garden spaces this spring. As I said, this is a global issue! Garden centers have been struggling to secure trucks and containers, either by rail or over asphalt since last fall and the costs associated with shipping product from one coast to another has skyrocketed. What once cost an Independent Garden Center $6,000 to ship a 53-foot tractor trailer, from Oregon to New Jersey EMPTY, has now been quoted as high as $16,000 in some cases. And with some industries reporting wait times as long as 90 days to secure a container, this is your classic case of supply and demand. Hence, why your rhododendron, spruce, clay pot, potting soil and even mulch could cost you more this year?

Now, if all this wasn’t bad enough, the Pacific Northwest had a severe ice storm this winter. Pedestrian commodities, thank you Eileen Ferrer for the term, such as ‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’ and Skip laurel, Prunus laurocerasus ‘Schipkaensis’ got “waffled” as a result. Two popular plants that will be in short supply this spring. And it’s not only plants… grass seed, fertilizers and soil amendments will be equally short. Independent Garden Centers, including ourselves, have been amassing, even hoarding, products all winter long to prepare for these shortages. So here it is, as pithily as I can state it… SHOP EARLY AND STOCK UP WHILE SUPPLIES LAST! And if you still have doubts about what I’m saying, just think about the shortages of pansies, Easter bulb plants and palm crosses earlier this spring.

“Floating traffic jams,” out at sea, contribute to higher costs for transporting goods and empty containers shipped back for reload only punctuate the problem. Since the mid 1950’s, containers revolutionized trade “by allowing goods to be packed into standard size receptacles and hoisted by cranes onto rail cars or trucks- effectively shrinking the globe.” THE WORLD IS CHANGING… and the average consumer has adjusted their spending habits. “From experiences to goods” we have reluctantly forgone vacations and improved our personal spaces. Improving our residential office areas, kitchens and basements; a renewed or new found interest in gardening have all shifted consumer spending towards goods. As vaccinations increase, perhaps travel will open up more and consumer spending will trend towards the “experience” again, easing the need for more containers? That said, as the holidays approach, people may again shift their dollars back to “goods” and the need for containers will increase yet again? It really is anyone’s guess? But for now, one thing’s for certain, supplies are tight and prices are up!