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Industry needs to collectively address truck shortage

The entire North American produce industry is suffering from a lack of truck transportation.

In order to solve the problem, Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director for Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, based in East Grand Forks, MN, suggested that it would take a massive effort by the entire industry.  RRV-TedddTed Kreis

“This is real,” Kreis said of the national problem.

The national truck driver pool is retiring — or aging. It seems younger people are unwilling to do that work — and endure its many regulations — in exchange for the current financial compensation.

While truck rates are rising to entice more drivers, Kreis noted, increased truck rates still aren’t high enough to assure adequate, consistent truck supplies. Furthermore, the increased expense can’t continue to be absorbed only by produce industry grower-shippers, he said. Retailers need to join their suppliers in bearing more of that overhead, reflected at retail, to ensure increased transportation costs are paid by consumers, he added.

“This is not just about potatoes from North Dakota,” Kreis said, adding that potato growers from around the country are facing a serious truck shortage this winter. “The rates are getting higher and higher. For Idaho, Wisconsin and other shippers, it’s all the same,” Kreis said. Similarly, the fresh fruit and vegetable industry at large is facing the challenge of a lack of transportation.

“Money Talks. It’s got to become the new norm to pay more for trucking services, to entice drivers to stay in — and enter — the business,” he stressed.

Kreis said the new 2018 federal law requiring driver hours to be monitored electronically is not helping the current access to trucks. He added that this driver shortage and an electronic log connection are a matter more exacerbated by bad timing than the root of the problem. “The law came at a time when the industry was already struggling for drivers,” Kreis said. “The main problem is that there is not enough of a work force. This is not a lifestyle that a lot of the younger guys want.”

Beyond increasing the financial incentive for drivers, it is believed by many that trucking can become more efficient by allowing tandem trailers on U.S. highways. Permitting Canadian drivers to pick up loads in the U.S. would also ease the truck shortage, Kreis said.

Kreis credits John Keeling, the chief executive officer of the National Potato Council for his excellent work to resolve these transportation matters.

In the Red River Valley, a few growers have the opportunity to use rail service. But “that is not an option for all the shippers,” said Kreis. He added that rail service “is not as flexibible or dependable as truck services.”

Nonetheless, having some potatoes leave the Red River Valley by rail this winter has helped potato movement, he said.