Numerous factors have created a nationwide truck shortage and higher freight
rates, with the impact being especially acute in California because of new
state regulations on reefer emissions.
Irvine, CA-based Western Growers Association sent out an advisory to its
members in late June stating that rates were already climbing.
The advisory said that a combination of factors — including the credit crisis,
new federal motor carrier safety rules, stricter California motor carrier
emission standards, an improving economy that has increased transportation
demand for dry goods and the typical summer spike in produce supplies — is
resulting in higher freight rates.
Ken Gilliland, transportation manager at Western Growers Association, told
The Produce News July 7 that the rates appeared to have leveled off a bit at a
fairly high rate, but there is still concern because California summer fruit
production has not hit its peak yet.
Paul Romero, a dispatcher with Gust Transportation Inc. in Fresno, CA, said
on the same day that truckers were asking for about $2.50 per mile for long-
haul produce trips. "Last year the norm was $1.60 to $1.70, rising to $1.90
when things got tight. The norm now seems to be about $2, with $2.50 being
the top end."
Mr. Romero expects that the $2.50 rate, which equals about $7,500 for a
cross-country trip, will be close to the maximum paid even as produce
volume increases. “When you get higher than that, people start looking for
alternatives. In fact, right now a lot of people are looking at using the rails.
Their delivery times are pretty close and you don't have to pay that much.”
He said that the long recession has taken its toll by causing some carriers to
go out of business and others to reduce the size of their fleets. “And with the
new California regulations [on reefer units], some refrigerated trucks just
aren’t coming into the state.”
Forest Landano of the James Brooks Co. in Fresno, CA, agreed that availability
of trucks is tight in California. “We don’t haul back East, so I can’t speak to
that, but trucks are tight out here even just to go in-state. There is just not a
lot of equipment available.”
Dave Miedema, president of E. Miedema & Sons, a vegetable grower-shipper
in Byron Center, MI, said that trucks are equally hard to find in the upper
Midwest. “We use our own equipment for a lot of our hauls, but I know other
shippers are having a hard time getting equipment. And at this time of year, I
am usually handling a lot of calls from truck brokers looking for loads, and
I’m not getting any of those calls this year.”
In the WGA advisory to its members, the group warned that an unstable
transportation situation could exist throughout the summer. “We anticipate …
that this summer will continue to be characterized by periodic transportation
problems,” the advisory read. “In particular, the market will be especially
difficult toward the end of each week, so whenever possible, secure your
transportation capacity and rates well in advance of the shipment date.”