Heimbuch Potatoes recently added a full-time transportation manager to its staff to address the difficulty the Cogswell, N.D.-based company had been having lining up trucks.
“Our sales people were handling it previously,” said sales manager Chad Heimbuch. “Last year we were spending twice as much time trying to find trucks as we were selling potatoes. It’s a problem. There aren’t as many trucks on the road as there used to be.”
Enter Ward Satterlee, an owner-operator from Britton, S.D., whose C&W Transport already was doing business with Heimbuch.
“He has eight to 12 trucks on the road at any one time,” Heimbuch said. “He’s handling all our transportation. We met three or four years ago, and he started sending his trucks up this way.”
Heimbuch said the company is using trucks from C&W, but Satterlee also is brokering trucks for Heimbuch.
“There are trucks that won’t come here from November to April,” Heimbuch said. “They don’t want to deal with the weather, and freight here is pretty expensive.”
Heimbuch isn’t the only Red River Valley potato shipper struggling with transportation issues. Operations and sales coordinator Keith Groven said Black Gold Farms, Grand Forks, N.D., has expanded its transportation staff from two employees to five in the past few years.
Groven said a variety of factors, including reduced hours of service for drivers and an aging driver workforce, have decreased capacity.
“The industry isn’t recruiting drivers as quickly as there are losing them to retirement,” he said.
Paul Dolan, president of Associated Growers Inc., Grand Forks, N.D., said trucks are especially hard to come by in November. Many drivers take time off for deer hunting season, he said, and truck demand is high leading up to Thanksgiving.
Co-owner Dave Moquist said O.C. Schultz & Sons Inc., Crystal, N.D., hires local independent truckers directly, works with brokers and ships by rail. Moquist said using rail in November and December just makes sense.
“It helps with the early shipping before Christmas,” he said. “We can get supplies to retailers for the holidays and not have to worry about trucks.”
Other sources, however, expressed frustration with the reliability and service of BNSF in the region.
“We have a real hard time getting railroad service,” said Bryan Folson, general manager of Folson Farms, East Grand Forks, Minn. You can’t jump through enough hoops to get good service. It’s hard to move any agriculture products by rail because they are moving so much oil. If you had a bumper crop, I don’t know what a guy would do. We haven’t tested waters yet this season because we haven’t started packing yet.