While some trucking leaders continue the push for a rollback of the electronic logging device mandate, a fall in truck rates has eased here-and-now problems for produce buyers and sellers.
There is still a lot of talk about the ELD mandate but rates have calmed, and growers-shippers are taking a business-as-usual approach to finding transportation, said Ken Gilliland, director of international trade and transportation for Western Growers.
One truck broker in Florida, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the March 18 expiration of the exemption for produce haulers from the ELD mandate is expected to cause problems.
“Customers on the receiving end are already saying they can’t get what they want when they want it,” he said. Just this week, he said one truck driver had to use up nearly all his allotted 14 hours operating time waiting to be loaded at three different Florida packinghouses, all within an hour’s driving radius.
With customers not yet willing to pay a premium for multiple picks, the truck broker was finding it hard to hire a truck for anything other than a single pickup and single drop.
U.S. truck rates have fallen sharply from January highs but remain well above year-ago levels in many districts, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Truck availability was adequate for most regions on Feb. 7, according to the USDA.
Rates from California’s Imperial and Coachella Valleys to New York on Feb. 7 were $7,400 to $7,500, That is down 15% from Jan. 20 numbers, but up more than 20% from the same time a year ago.
John Burton, general manager of sales for Coachella, Calif.-based Peter Rabbit Farms, said he has heard from buyers — who typically arrange trucking — that truck rates have fallen as much as 30% from January highs.
“We get calls from trucking services every day from people looking for business,” he said.
For the Yakima, Wash., region, Feb. 7 truck rates to Dallas of $4,600 to $4,900 were off 20% from Jan. 20 rates and close to the range reported last year at the same time.
In south Florida, the USDA reported rates to Chicago of $2,900 to $3,100 on Feb. 7, similar to Jan. 20 and about 20% above year-ago levels.
Concerns about the ELD mandate and the underlying hours of service issue persist in February, with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association still pushing for a long-term exemption for small trucking business with excellent safety records.
In early February, 25 members of Congress sent a letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asking them to support the pending application from the association for the minimum 5-year exemption.
U.S. Reps. Brian Babin, R-Texas, and Steve King, R-Iowa and 23 other lawmakers wrote the letter.
“We thank the representatives, especially Congressmen Babin and King, for recognizing that small-business truckers that have already proven their ability to operate safely should not be subject to purchasing costly, unproven and uncertified devices,” Todd Spencer, acting president and CEO of the independent truckers’ association.
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said the ELD mandate was causing several produce associations to come together and see if the ELD mandate could be made smarter for the produce industry. Jungmeyer said the United Fresh Produce Association’s Supply Chain Logistics Council is leading the coordinated effort.