Some wholesalers
turning to air freight

But the air alternative is costlier

A prolonged strike by tugboat workers could force up prices of local produce and empty store shelves, but could hit isle farmers hardest.

"Our neighbor island deliveries are all totally up in the air," said Laurence Vogel, president and chief executive of wholesaler Y. Hata & Co. "By that I mean we're moving to air service."

Vogel said air delivery costs significantly more than shipping by sea.

"Ultimately, of course, consumers wind up holding the bag," he said.

One product that will not be shipped by air is watermelons.

Armstrong Produce's Honolulu warehouse was bulging yesterday with 30 tons of Kunia watermelons that likely will not make it to neighbor island store shelves for holiday picnics.

"Farmers grow specifically for this weekend," said Kelvin Shigemura. "If the watermelon is not ready one week prior, he misses that window of opportunity."

However, Shigemura said his company will probably fly papayas to Oahu from the Big Island, where most of the state's papayas are grown.

"You can't tell the customer there's a strike so we don't have any papaya," he said. "People come from Japan or California, and they want papaya."

He said the company will tack on the cost difference between air freight and sea freight.

Shigemura acknowledged headaches for wholesalers and retailers but said farmers will hurt more.

"We can tell the farmers nobody's buying, so we can't take anything," he said. "If the strike prolongs and people are resistant in paying higher prices, I think the farmers are where the impact is going to be."

Ron Sugai, of Foremost Dairies, is hoping to avoid sending milk to neighbor islands via air freight because of the cost.

"We're concerned, but there's not much we can do," he said. "We feel bad for our neighbor island customers."

Despite having two containers of watermelons destined for Maui trapped at Honolulu piers, farmer Larry Jefts is not worried.

"Customers might eat more watermelon if they can't get papaya," he said.

Young Brothers Ltd.
Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific

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