A Bland Farms truck pulls a load of Vidalia onions from the fields en route to the packinghouse. Growers are considering how the shipping situation, with higher freight rates and truck shortages in some areas, will affect their season. ( Courtesy Bland Farms )

The onset of federally mandated electronic logging devices this year is driving freight rates higher and could push drivers out of the business, but it could actually help Vidalia onion sales, some grower-shippers say.

The changing rules ultimately could keep some Western onions closer to home and open some opportunities for Vidalia onions, said Delbert Bland, president of Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC.

“We anticipate more of a trend of using Vidalias in foodservice and less Western onions on the East Coast, just because of the freight numbers,” he said.

“With the new rules and all on trucking, demand has exceeded supply, and we have problems getting trucks out of Texas bringing Mexican onions — that’s what we’re packing here in Georgia now.”

Bland said he has noted in the past that it’s a challenge to get trucks to move from the West Coast to the East Coast during certain times of the year.

“It’s a challenge here every day, getting enough trucks to bring them across,” he said. “It’s not as hard shipping east to west, because truckers are all trying to get that high-value cargo to bring out West.”

Freight could be a problem at times this year, said Jeff Brechler, salesman with Edinburg, Texas-based J&D Produce Inc., which sells Vidalia onions grown by Lyons, Ga.-based M&T Farms.

“It is (more expensive) for sure, with electronic logs coming into play,” he said.

Walt Dasher, co-owner of Glennville-based grower-shipper G&R Farms, said it was difficult to forecast truck availability.

“All I can say on that at the moment is we haven’t seen the monkey fall out of the tree yet,” he said.

“My concern is, come June, when you have so many items from across the country coming into the market, that’s where we’re going to start to see the issue.”

In mid-March, trucks were “plentiful, easy to get,” Dasher said.

“But even without all the new regulations that have been imposed on carriers, come July, it could be very tricky,” he said.

“Now, you throw in more regulations and costs tied to the carriers, you’re going to have, unfortunately, some individuals who will elect to get out of the trucking business. So, right off the bat, you’re going to create a shortage.”

Growers will have to be more deliberate in planning their shipments, because, at some point, trucks won’t be available on short notice, Dasher said.

“We really have to communicate more in advance than ever, because the days of being able to grab a truck for a load on a turn of a dime are going to be coming to an end,” he said.

“E-logs will prohibit drivers and companies from having more flexibility. You’re going to see guys say, ‘I’m only 100 miles away, but I have to wait eight hours to pick your load up.’ We’ve got to do a good job of planning side by side.”