CASSELTON, N.D. — Grain from Casselton heads to Minneapolis by truck, Minneapolis to the West Coast by train, then off to Asia by cargo ship.

"Historically, that's kind of been the cycle — we harvest, we begin shipping," said Bob Sinner, president of SB&B Foods Inc. in Casselton.

The company's soy products are headed to Asia. International sales make up 85% of SB&B's business.

Now, the pandemic is threatening the supply chain. Think about all the online shopping that's been done during the pandemic. The rush to get those products into the country has caused an imbalance like never before.

"We've never seen imports at this level, and so the value of its imports to the carriers is such that they want to get those empty containers back overseas rather than fill them," said Sinner.

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Due to the increase in demand in shipping containers, the price to ship SB&B's products abroad has doubled.

"The containers are empty going back and we have cancellations," said North Dakota District Export Council chairman Jay Schuler. "We have containers that are supposed to be delivered at such and such a date, and they don't show up."

Schuler and Sinner are reaching out to the federal government for help.

"We've talked to the transportation secretary. We've talked the attorney general. I was in a Zoom call at the White House last week, just talking about how serious this is for everyone, and yet we have no resolve," Sinner said.

The District Export Council is asking for a tax on empty containers leaving the U.S., and enforcing shipping law saying carriers must provide access to ocean transportation.

"This has been extremely frustrating," said Sinner.

Schuler says these relationships with growers and producers are years in the making.

"You work 20 to 30 years to develop these customers, and everything's going well, and then this happens," he said.

"This really is about opportunities for North Dakota. It's about opportunities for North Dakota agriculture," said Sinner.

Despite the challenges, Sinner says SB&B will complete all of its deliveries ahead of a new crop.