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Dearth of transportation options a headache for Associated Potato Growers

There is a lot more to the potato business than potatoes.

Amid North Dakota’s winter freeze, the growing, packing and shipping of potatoes was going great for Associated Potato growers. It was getting spuds to customers that is plaguing Paul Dolan, manager of the Grand Forks firm. He said that this large challenge is widespread in the Red River Valley and around the nation. associated-3Paul Dolan

As to shipping potato volume, “We are behind from where we’d like to be,” Dolan said in a Jan. 3 interview with The Produce News. “The volume situation is nothing terrible-terrible, but the transportation situation is terrible. We can’t get a truck, and when we do we pay through the roof. It’s not just in this area, the industry around the whole country is having a helluva time finding transportation.”

He added that it wasn’t helpful in late December that Red River Valley shippers were looking for truckers to drive into -20F temperatures.

Dolan disagreed with those who suggest that driver resistance to new electronic driving log rules is the key to a truck scarcity. “It’s that no one wants to drive anymore. People say the log adds to the problem but there is a shortage of drivers. Everyone’s trucks are parked,” he said.

The oil boom in North Dakota has also declined, which makes backhauls to the northern plains more difficult. Dolan said his potato associates in Wisconsin, Idaho, Colorado and Washington “are all complaining about transportation. We are paying a lot more for freight and we still can’t get the trucks.”

Oftentimes, the potato company finding the first truck is the firm earning the sale. “Sometimes customers have their own trucks and a deal is made,” he said. “Then the truck doesn’t show up and the order is no good.”

Dolan said Associated Potato has moved more volume by rail than in any point in the last decade. “We’re doing what we can to get potatoes moved,” he said.

On the potato side of the business, “the quality is holding up pretty well,” Dolan said.

“We’ve shipped twice as many yellows compared to last year,” he added. “We’re moving more and more yellows than in the past. The whole valley has more yellows.” Because of this, Dolan said the movement of red potatoes has suffered some.

The slow movement could add time to the Red River Valley potato deal this summer.