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FPAA working to improve transportation problems

NOGALES, AZ — The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas is cooperating with other produce groups around the country to improve the worsening availability of transportation.

“The FPAA, Texas International Produce Association and other groups are working through United Fresh to approach this on an industry-wide basis,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales-based FPAA.container-lift-Pt-TucsonAn hour north of Nogales is the port of Tucson. This port’s rail and cold warehousing infrastructure offer Nogales produce distributors options to help overcome what appears to be a long-term shortage of refrigerated long-haul truck transportation. Photo by Tad Thompson

FPAA represents its membership, which involves Mexican produce importers or trade entities supporting them.

Jungmeyer indicated in mid-January that new Department of Transportation enforcement of electronic logging devices “is creating a trucker shortage. The market is out of whack. There is a demand” for truckers “and we need to find a pipeline to get more truckers involved in the industry.”

Among the challenges is a declining number of truckers who are willing to drive more than one overnight delivery away from home. “The long-haul business is now suffering,” Jungmeyer said.

He believes “the market will adjust and draw more trucks in and eventually there will be an equilibrium.” A certainty is that there will be an ongoing need to deliver food to the public, he added.

Jungmeyer and his association leaders were at the port of Tucson in early January to discuss options for applying Tucson’s modern railroad and cold warehouse staging service to help move produce out of southern Arizona.

“At this stage, we’ve talked over the years with the port of Tucson, which is a member of our association, about different rail options.” These Tucson options include full rail cars and intermodal shipping.

Jungmeyer said intermodal shipping, which involves reefer trailers on flat cars, “is looking more promising and more flexible” than the alternative of shipping full rail cars. It is hard to organize the large volume carried by railcars. And of course those cars only go to certain destinations. Trailers on flat cars can be shipped over the road from rail hubs directly to customers.

FPAA’s work to improve the driver shortage has included cooperation with the Arizona Commerce Authority to encourage those looking for a new career to consider trucking. Such events “connect employers with people who are ready to work,” Jungmeyer indicated. “We applaud Arizona for taking this initiative. We have highlighted the need for truckers,” while also helping the state recruit CBP agents as well as agricultural inspectors to work the border crossing. Jungmeyer explained that Customs & Border Protection agents and ag inspectors are needed at the Nogales crossing, just as truckers are needed to haul fresh fruits and vegetables away from the border.

Not only ex-military, but some people coming out of correctional facilities are appropriate for some of these jobs, Jungmeyer noted. “If they are rehabilitated, they deserve a chance in the work force.”