Trucker shortage threatens agricultural trade flows

Agriculture requires the transportation of goods via highway, water, and rail across North America.  When it comes to challenges, the rivers in the U.S. and railways in Canada tend to get much of the media coverage, but what about the trucking industry?

At first thought about the issue you might suspect that quality of the highways is the biggest issue, but although important, it’s not the most immediate concern. In the U.S. alone there is an estimated shortage of 63,000 truck drivers according to Washington Post economic correspondent, Heather Long.

A recent Washington Post story says that according to the American Trucking Association, the trucking industry has a turnover rate of 94%, currently.

In my opinion this number is staggering and shows that agriculture should be concerned about the driver shortages and the quality of some commercial drivers hauling the loads we need to get to market. Although two Canadian-based haulers informed me that the shortage isn’t as dramatic in Canada there is still an issue of finding quality drivers.

Farmers and ranchers work extremely hard to produce a great product but it needs to get to market. A lack or truck drivers drives up costs and creates lack of reliability to our domestic and international customers.

Hear Shaun Haney discussing the trucking shortage with Heather Long of the Washington Post (story continues below).  

According to Long, the following are preventing people from becoming truck drivers

  • It’s dangerous being a commercial driver: the job is 8-times more deadly than being a police office
  • Time away from family for extended periods
  • Increasing regulation like ELDs (electronic logging devices) are driving older demographics out of the industry
  • Poor health and eating habits of drivers create a environment of excess weight gain

Some people believe that the best way to address the shortage of drivers is autonomy but it is by far not a silver bullet. In discussions with three different commercial trucking companies, there is interest in the technology but they see it being far from fully implemented. Some of the barriers include the cost of the driverless trucks and complications with hauling livestock without a driver.

During her appearance on RealAg Radio, Long alludes to the stigma of being a truck driver is a ghost that the industry is battling which makes just raising wages not the simple solution.

“One international hauler that wanted to remain anonymous told me, ‘I’m struggling right now. Company moral is very low cause all the negativity towards drivers,'” she says.

With a shortage of drivers comes increased costs on the system as wages rise and rates increase.  These costs are easily passed onto farmers already dealing with squeezed margins on declining commodity prices in 2018.

Whether it’s cattle, pork, grain or fruits and vegetables the trucking industry is integral to the agricultural value chain.  Agriculture needs the trucking industry to survive and it behooves us to assist in anyway to find a solution.

 

Shaun Haney

Shaun Haney is the founder of RealAgriculture.com. He creates content regularly and hosts RealAg Radio on Rural Radio 147 every weekday at 4:30 PM est. @shaunhaney

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