Don’t wait too long to fix trucking problems

At one time, fuel pricing may have been the single biggest challenge to the trucking industry. It wasn’t so long ago that surcharges were added to purchase orders as the cost of fuel escalated at an alarming rate.

How soon we forget that gasoline was once over $5 a gallon nationally and diesel fuel prices were outpacing gas!

Increasing regulation, both at the national and state level, is of mounting concern. It’s already having a significant impact on availability and profitability. Then there’s the driver shortage, another subject closely related to immigration policy, as there simply are not enough drivers to fill the need, not just in the produce industry, but trucking and transportation in general.

All these issues are already affecting the cost of shipping fresh fruits and vegetables. But there is another truth the industry often ignores: if you talk with drivers, especially independent owner-operators, many would rather walk on broken glass than haul produce.

Multiple pickups, delays at both shipping and receiving points, temperature maintenance, and load compatibility are all challenges drivers of other products don’t have to deal with. Not to mention rejections.

Today there are more delays, out-of-route miles, pallet and/or RPC disposition, and a host of items characteristic to the produce industry. If drivers were asked to list the loads they preferred to haul, I can assure you produce would not be at the top.

But despite evidence that suggests new alternatives, the industry still deals with transportation in much the same way it always has—and in fairness, to date this has not been a game stopper. Oh, you’ll hear grousing about cost, but by and large, loads get moved.

But I wonder…as capacity continues to shrink, as drivers become more scarce, as fuel prices remain uncertain, and as regulations proliferate—can the industry ensure its loads will be moved and delivered?

Some will point to driverless trucks as the answer. I can see this–much the same way intermodal provides a viable alternative to cross-country transit. But for LTL freight, multiple drops, urban deliveries, and load disputes, I don’t see driverless trucks as a solution.

This, however, is not the issue—the industry needs a collaborative effort to solve the systemic issues of produce transportation. And while marketing topics are worthwhile pursuits, industry leadership at both the national and regional level need to join together and work in earnest to provide real solutions.

As the saying goes, it’s generally not a good idea to wait until it rains to fix the hole in the roof.

Read Part 1 here.

Bruce Peterson is the founder and president of Peterson Insights, Inc., a consulting company specializing in the complex challenges of the fresh food industry. Peterson began his career bagging groceries, and went on to work for several supermarket chains, including 17 years at Walmart Stores, Inc. He has owned and operated a wholesale produce company, and served as chief executive officer of both Naturipe Foods LLC and Bland Farms.