Even if you’re not in the produce industry, transportation issues that crop up during produce season from early spring through early summer can be thorny for many shippers. Tightened capacity, increased rates, and other issues affect all shippers, especially if you ship refrigerated products. Taking steps to protect your interests now can save you headaches and expense when peak season hits.

Produce Season and Capacity

The produce harvest season impacts the country in waves, eating up available truck capacity as it moves north from the southernmost states. The first wave begins in late February or early March when an influx of produce from Mexico’s early harvest travels through the U.S. on its way to manufacturers and stores. In late March, the southeastern states, southern Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, and southern California join in with their harvests. After that, produce originates from more northern states across the country as warmer temperatures arrive.

This pattern tends to vary each year, as shown in the maps below. Given that load-to-truck ratios are highly dependent upon the growing season, shippers must stay focused on harvest schedules as they become available. The USDA publishes several in-depth crop reports to help keep all parties of the supply chain informed on market news, truck rates, and more.

(Source: DAT)

Produce Season and Demand

Harvest schedules only reveal part of the picture. Understanding volumes matters too. For example, while reports show that imported truck loads are fewer this year over last, many produce items matured early last year because of the warmer weather. Volumes for 2018 are indeed growing and increasing demand for shipping with it (HaulProduce.com). Commodities shipping now include:

  • Red potatoes from southern regions
  • Vegetables such as beans and cabbage from southern regions
  • Grapes, peaches, plums, nectarines, and pineapples from Central America
  • Apples from Michigan
  • Sweet potatoes from North Carolina
  • Strawberries from Plant City
  • Tomatoes from Florida

Although the 2018 season has just begun, demand for shipping is making an impact. According to the USDA truck rate report for specialty crops, February brought a shortage of trucks to eastern North Carolina, central Florida, and southern Florida. Since then, capacity has also tightened in southern Texas and South Carolina.

Produce Season Affects Rates

Produce shipping volumes determine the level of demand for transportation. According the DAT Freight Index (below), 2018 is off to a healthy start.

(Source: GlobalNewswire.com)

As demand rises, competition for available capacity shrinks, sending rates higher. However, refrigerated trucks have a broader effect on pricing during produce season. As demand for refrigerated capacity spikes, prices for other modes also rise in response.

Controlling Costs

Controlling transportation costs during peak produce season is no small task, but there are ways to be proactive. In addition to studying harvest schedules, shippers can analyze rates, negotiate contracts early, and take these other steps to avoid paying excessive rates. Capstone can also work with you to customize a transportation solution that leverages regional capacity strengths while keeping your shipping costs from growing out of control.