Transportation issues have caused headaches and delays for potato shippers this winter, particularly in the Red River Valley.
Paul Dolan, president of Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks, N.D., said the delays have been significant, largely because of winter storms.
“Transportation has been a nightmare. It’s normal to be an issue during deer season through Thanksgiving, but trucking has been inadequate, to say the least, for the entire season,” he said.
In fact, bidding wars have broken out in some extreme cases. Shippers have to compete for the few trucks that are available in each area, a problem not specific to Red River Valley.
Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administration Committee, Monte Vista, Colo., tells of a trucker that arrived at a warehouse where the employees were unable to load him for three minutes, so he left and went to another warehouse.
These winter storms have hit the country at a most inopportune time for potato shippers.
For example, February brings an increase in shipments to support the Idaho Potato Commission’s Potato Lover’s month.
“This is a huge contest for our state with more than 4,000 stores estimated to enter this year. All of that traffic within one month causes a huge demand on the trucking industry,” said Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail/international for the Eagle, Idaho-based commission.
And delays during this time are unacceptable.
“If you set a timeline for an ad, you can’t be a week late on getting those shipments in,” Pemsler said.
Coupled with fewer drivers, the weather has caused a lot of delays, according to Dolan.
“Trucks are in such high demand we just aren’t able to ship the quantity of potatoes we need to,” Dolan said.
He estimates the issue has put the season behind about two weeks.
Ryan Wahlen, sales manager for Pleasant Valley Potatoes, Aberdeen, Idaho, agreed.
“The transportation issues have definitely impacted us,” he said.
“The rest of the country has had a lot of extreme winter weather and those storms have impacted the normal flow of trucks from east to west. I’m not sure if they’ve been hung up there or simply don’t want to cross the areas of the country that have been having those storms."
The problem is especially difficult for shippers in more remote areas, with less truck traffic going through.
“There aren’t a lot of other products being hauled in this area, and truckers like to have a full load all of the time, so they aren’t going to come into the town empty,” Ehrlich said.