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Farmers react to Young Brothers shipping schedule change

Some Big Island farmers are concerned about plans proposed by Young Brothers to reduce its Hilo shipping frequency.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and decreasing cargo volumes, Young Brothers announced on April 24 it will temporarily amend its sailing schedule for Hawaii and Maui counties beginning Tuesday, pending approval from the Public Utilities Commission.

According to Young Brothers, “the weekly Saturday sailing from Honolulu to Hilo, with arrival on Monday, will be temporarily suspended.”

“The twice-weekly route to Hilo will instead be adjusted to a single direct sailing with arrival to Hilo on Thursday,” the shipper said.

Twice-weekly routes to Kawaihae, with arrivals on Tuesday and Friday, are continuing as scheduled.

Michael Durkan, who buys and sells papayas that are shipped to a health food chain in Honolulu, also manages Johnson Family Farm, a 20-acre organic farm in Opihikao.

He’s not concerned that Young Brothers is reducing its routes, but rather that they are planning to cut the Monday barge.

Ships leaving Hilo on Thursday arrive in Honolulu for unloading on Saturday, but because of work schedules, Durkan said, most produce shipped from the Big Island will have to wait until Monday until it’s unloaded.

That’s a problem for farmers because their products are then damaged or not as fresh.

It also means the produce isn’t available for weekend markets.

Barges that leave Monday arrive Wednesday or Thursday, in time for the weekend, Durkan said.

Because the markets aren’t able to move as much fruit, Durkan said sales and receipts go down for both the farmer and the sellers.

“Not just for us, but also for the people that sell our produce in Honolulu. They also lose if they don’t get the produce in time for peak sales. … It’s a real bad situation for everyone, including the customer.”

Additionally, Durkan said many farmers and farm workers are “weekend warriors,” who work full-time jobs through the week and pick and pack produce on Saturday and Sunday in preparation for the Monday barge.

And in a letter to the Tribune-Herald, Durkan also said he now has to pay to haul goods to ship from Kawaihae on Tuesday, which adds 4 cents per pound to freight costs, resulting in higher prices for customers and reduced sales.

For more information and regular updates regarding Young Brothers operations and COVID-19, visit youngbrothershawaii.com/covid-19.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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