So far, no truck shortage affecting produce industry

03/22/2013 02:42:00 PM
Tom Burfield

As grower-shippers gear up for the spring/summer season, transportation suppliers don’t anticipate major shortages of trucks to carry fruits and vegetables to market.

They have their fingers crossed that the situation will remain stable as the year progresses, but they’re not making any promises.

In the meantime, as has become the norm for motor carriers, rising costs, new regulations and other challenges continue to dog the industry.

Doug Stoiber, vice president of produce transportation operations for L&M Transportation Services, Raleigh, N.C., said he’s a “guarded optimist” concerning the supply of trucks.

Spring should start out with fairly good rates and a fairly good supply of trucks, he said, but the long-term forecast could be a different story.

“I fear that come May, June and July we may have a real tightening of capacity,” he said.

The trucking industry faced numerous hurdles out of the West Coast this winter, said Vicki Gable, business development coordinator for Bigelow Truck Brokers, Glendale, Ariz.

The firm was looking for carriers ranging from single-truck operations to 300-truck carriers, especially in the Detroit area.

There should be no shortage of freight coming into California this year, said Marshall Kipp, president and chief executive officer of Advanced Transportation Services, Visalia, Calif.. That means trucks should be available to haul outbound produce.

The need for refrigerated trucks is crop-oriented, he said, and it was too early to predict what Mother Nature had in store.

“If all the crops pop up correctly, there will be high demand,” he said.

Rates are tough to predict, said Danny Pulcinelli, a buyer for Del Fresco Produce Ltd., Kingsville, Ontario.

“Truck rates are exactly like the produce market,” he said. “It’s supply and demand.”

Canadian rates are similar to those in the U.S., he said.

On the ocean carrier side, perishables are arriving more often in containers rather than being shipped by bulk carriers, said Nelly Yunta, vice president of sales, marketing and customer care for Crowley Maritime Corp., Jacksonville, Fla.

Sequestration cutbacks may affect imported products, said Mary Jo Muoio, senior vice president of trade services for Brentwood, Tenn.-based OHL International.

Muoio attended a recent CBP briefing during which the agency detailed how sequestration will impact the agency’s hours of operation and its personnel.

Effective March 1, the agency has eliminated all nonessential overtime, she said. Employee furloughs are scheduled to begin in April and last through the year.

The cutbacks could result in delays of up to five days in cargo examinations for ocean cargo and five to six hours for air cargo, she said.

Staying abreast of the latest rules and regulations governing the trucking industry always is a challenge for carriers, and trucking associations stay busy lobbying for or against proposed legislation.

One of the most significant changes this year was new, more stringent rules implemented by the California Air Resource Board that limit emissions from refrigeration units.

Shippers, receivers and carriers all can be fined if a unit is out of compliance.

“If they are not compliant with their equipment, they’re not going to be loading out of California,” Gable said.

Bigelow Truck Brokers is rearranging schedules so that trucks that aren’t resource board-compliant do not go into California.

Also, drivers now are being scrutinized more closely than ever under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, Kipp said.

Under the program, a carrier’s safety record is available for public scrutiny on the Web.

Carriers don’t want to hire drivers who might drag down the company’s compliance score, he said.

Finally, as in the agriculture industry, many drivers are reaching retirement age, and not many young people are entering the industry, Stoiber said.

“We’re hitting a personnel funnel,” he said.

Some efforts are being made to lower the minimum age for a commercial driver’s license to 19 or 20, rather than 21.

This might encourage 18-year-olds who are thinking about choosing a career to enter the trucking industry, he said. It also could provide jobs for returning veterans who learned the necessary skills in the military.



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