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agriculture

Hours of Service Update for AG Truckers 

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has worked closely with the USDA to clarify rules and definitions regarding livestock and agricultural commodities in its hours-of-service (HoS) regulations. Most notably, it has issued a 150 air-mile exemption. According to the FMCSA, the agricultural rule making “was prompted by indications that the current definition of these terms may not be understood or enforced consistently when determining whether the HoS exemption applies.” Here’s a breakdown of the new HoS terms and some elaboration on how the exemption will affect motor carriers. 

Defining Terms And Boundaries  

An “air-mile” is equivalent to 172.6 miles and is roughly used to account for the shortest distance between two points regardless of the terrain. Essentially, if a driver stays within this radius while transporting certain agricultural commodities, they are exempt from HoS regulations. Drivers do not have to use an ELD because they are not required to keep logs of their hours.  

An interview conducted by FleetOwner further clarifies the exemption. Joe DeLorenzo, director of FMCSA’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement, describes which activities the exemption covers and what happens if a truck carrying agricultural commodities travels outside of the 150 air-mile radius. “Any of the time that takes place working within that 150-[air]-mile radius is not counted toward the driver’s hours of service,” he said. “That includes empty miles driven to a pick-up point, it includes loading time, and it includes the time driving with an agricultural commodity within a 150-[air]-mile radius of the source.”  This applies to the full round-trip (before and after drop-off). 

A truck may arrange multiple stops to pick up agricultural commodities, but under the FMCSA’s rules, those stops do not count as a new source point.

The mid-point of the radius is placed on the map when the commodities are picked up. This point is officially termed the “source.” The driver is then covered under the exemption at any point within the 150 air-mile radius of the initial load in. There can be only one source per trip. A truck may arrange multiple stops to pick up agricultural commodities, but under the FMCSA’s rules, those stops do not count as a new source point. Therefore, drivers will not have to log their hours when making additional loading stops within the 150 air-mile radius of their initial source.

What Happens When Drivers Leave The Radius? 

When a driver hauling ag crosses into the 151st air-mile from the original source, HoS rules apply, and the clock starts at zero hours. This can provide a significant extension to the workday. Drivers who re-enter the exemption radius from the original pickup should note that their routes re-enter the timeless zone.  

Drivers do not necessarily have to resume the use of their ELD when they re-enter territory subject to HoS regulation. 

Here’s where it gets a little confusing. Drivers do not necessarily have to resume the use of their ELD when they re-enter territory subject to HoS regulation. This ELD exemption could apply. A driver can forego the use of an ELD in favor of paper logs if they only need to record hours of service for 8 out of any 30 rolling calendar days. Since this rolling period is cHoSen at the driver’s discretion, a driver could craftily choose which 30-day window to use. The goal would be to choose any 30 days during which they left the exemption radius on fewer than 8 separate days. Using this approach, a driver would not have to obtain an ELD. 

The Implications: Some Pros & Cons 

It enables ambitious drivers to log more miles.

Since the HoS regulations are meant to limit the maximum number of hours drivers are allowed to be on duty while also mandating the number and length of rest periods, the revision made on June 1, 2020, has raised some safety concerns. Extending the workday to such extremes helps farmers move their commodities and supports grocery stores. It enables ambitious drivers to log more miles. It also effectively rolls-back the safety efforts made by the HoS to protect driver alertness through the use of ELDs in December 2017. Safety groups like The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) have warned federal regulators that their actions make agricultural haulers vulnerable to fatigue. They additionally expressed concern over the ambiguity of what defines an “agricultural commodity” between the FMCSA and the USDA. While the FMCSA cited this as the revision’s primary goal, there are still many practical gray areas.

In order for drivers to remain compliant, CVSA has insisted that the FMCSA should make changes as follows: 

  • Specify that drivers of mixed load cargo hauls do not meet the definition of an agricultural commodity for transport  
  • Provide clearly stated guidelines on the extent to which a raw agricultural product can be altered before it has to be claimed as a cargo of processed goods 
  • Require drivers to still use their ELDs to record hours driven under the exemption as a result of hauling livestock or agricultural commodities 

The key to navigating these regulations is to understand exactly how the exemptions work. Especially as the United States begins its produce season, ensuring that these time-sensitive goods reach their destination in a timely manner is critical.

Shipping Challenges For The 2021 Produce Season

Volume increases in shipping can drive up rates and create challenging conditions in freight capacity. Under normal conditions, the strain on CPG shippers occurs tidally. Produce season causes disruptions, but occurs with a fair degree of regularity. Even if a carrier does not transport agricultural goods, the influx of produce to shipping can affect operations, capacity and costs. COVID-19 is a new factor in shipping volume. Therefore it is challenging to prepare already tight margins for additional freight volume.

Driver Shortages

LTL is estimated to be experiencing a shortage near 20,000 drivers. A lack of qualified drivers is one theory. Prospective employees deciding their pay is inadequate for the working conditions is another. HOS regulations, meant to keep drivers safe, have also eaten up revenue opportunities for the young and ambitious.

arriers, shippers and 3PLs will all have to work together to entice drivers back towards the industry.

Due to COVID-related closures, supply chain disruptions have increased driver detention, which costs both drivers and shareholders significant amounts of both time and money. The threat of infection has slowed enrollment for in-person training programs and made travel less appealing. Older workers may decide to retire rather than risk exposure as high-risk individuals. Currently, there is no standardized hazard pay for drivers working through the pandemic. Carriers, shippers and 3PLs will all have to work together to entice drivers back towards the industry.

Social Distancing And E-Commerce Sales

According to Zipline Logistics, “when carriers devote trucks to moving high crop volumes, the available capacity diminishes. This yearly phenomenon drives up rates and can affect your ability to book shipments in or out of affected and nearby states.” LTL freight has already entered 2021 with significantly higher demands. Quarantine has driven consumers to fill their carts online. Amazon remained ideally situated to support consumers during the pandemic with an efficient last-mile shipping model and obsession with customer service. Unfortunately, most other major carriers got caught in a capacity crunch. Border closures resulted in a bottle-neck of supply chains and forced some on-the-fly spot rate decisions. The shift from retail stores to individual homes for house-hold purchases put added emphasis on timeliness.

To stay ahead of the many challenges this produce season, freighters will avoid unnecessary losses by turning to 3PL providers for capacity foresight.

Carriers found themselves choosing between paying FTL rates for trailers that were not full and waiting on further LTL shipments. Companies that remain competitive with Amazon will have to change their operations to meet customer expectations amid the rising demands of e-commerce. Shoppers unable to go to a retail shop cannot absorb lengthy delays the same way as a box store can, and with Amazon offering same-day shipping in much of the country, they don’t have to. COVID-19 has exponentially accelerated a generational industry change that was already on its way. Amendments to a business model while running operations are a tall order for any company. To stay ahead of the many challenges this produce season, freighters will avoid unnecessary losses by turning to 3PL providers for capacity foresight.

COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

We’ve seen that COVID has put pressure on carriers due to its effect on e-commerce trends. Labeled “Operation Warp Speed” by the United States Government, vaccine distribution adds another layer of urgency to shipping logistics. Vials from all approved sources currently require handling without any breaks in the cold chain. Vaccines are a part of the solution to COVID-related slowdowns in the flow of goods, but they also compete for refrigerated capacity.  Security concerns and the unstable nature of the COVID vaccine require constant monitoring, which means two-driver teams. Doubling drivers puts further strain on staffing shortages coming into produce season.

High demand means high value. Carriers who lose or damage shipments will forfeit contracts, profits and industry standing.

The shipment of fragile medical supplies also requires additional training for all who will handle them. COVID-19 is a matter of life and death, so the vaccine has a high demand. High demand means high value. Carriers who lose or damage shipments will forfeit contracts, profits and industry standing. According to information gathered by Heavy Duty Trucking, “WHO estimates nearly 20% of temperature-sensitive healthcare products get damaged during transport, and 25% reach their destination in a degraded state because of breaks in the cold chain”. Refrigerated freight specialists will need impeccable capacity logistics, highly trained drivers, well-maintained fleets and smooth transitions at both load-in and load-out to compete in Operation Warp Speed.

Carriers who possess both the experience and equipment needed to handle the vaccine roll-out is a small percentage of trucking. These companies will find themselves highly sought after as a part of the solution to a virus projected to have claimed 1 million Americans by May 2021.

Investing In Support

Factors such as driver shortages and a massive overhaul in e-commerce are sure to confound already challenging conditions. Investing in 3PL support is the profitable choice for fleets distributing any kind of temperature controlled freight this produce season. BlueGrace is connected to both national and regional carriers with refrigerated capabilities ready to handle your next load. Contact one of our experts today to learn more.

Are Chinese Citrus Imports a Major Threat to Florida’s Agricultural Community?

The recent federal decision to authorize the import of certain citrus fruits from China has garnered significant attention since its announcement in April.  More so in an ongoing pandemic situation across the world, this came as a major shock to the indigenous farmers and authorities in Florida. While there have been neutral remarks by California industry representatives who do not foresee any formidable impact on the fresh produce markets owing to the smaller volumes of import, Florida seems to differ on the opinion.

What’s the USDA decision regarding citrus imports?

Towards mid-April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture authorized the import of five commercial citrus fruits from China. Chinese pomelos, Nanfeng tangerines, Ponkan tangerines, sweet oranges, and Wenzhou tangerines are the five varieties of citrus fruits that can now be imported into the U.S following systematic plant pest screening. The decision comes after the federal scientists reinstate that these five varieties can be safely imported given the farmers, packers, and shippers use a systematic approach to minimize pest risks.

Following the announcement US Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott penned a letter to Sonny Perdue, the USDA Secretary to reconsider his decision

Following the announcement US Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott penned a letter to Sonny Perdue, the USDA Secretary to reconsider his decision of importing these varieties that may be detrimental to the current scenario of Citrus trade in Florida. The impacts could be manifold pertaining to the safety of these produces in the aftermath of a pandemic.

Why are these five fruits such a cause of concern?

The four main things to know here are:

  1. The dwindling Citrus Industry of Florida.

Firstly, the sorry state of Florida’s Citrus industry over the past decade has been a major concern for the agricultural community as well as industry experts. The reasons for such a downward spiral are hurricanes, unfair pricing of imports, and citrus greening. Mike Sparks, executive vice president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, stated,

We need to take another look at this decision. Add to the fact it will hurt growers by flooding domestic markets with Chinese citrus and it really is a double whammy.

At a time when the indigenous growers are facing a steep challenge with the ongoing economic crisis, this move seems to come as a severe blow to the agricultural community in Florida.

  1. Citrus Greening

Citrus Greening or Huanglongbing, HLB, a disease that originated in China and entered the U.S. through imported citrus is a serious cause of concern. The disease primarily affects the growth of the plants and produces asymmetrical and stunted fruits with thick yellowing peel and a bitter taste. Citrus Greening has been majorly responsible for the dwindling citrus fruit production in the US and many other countries around the world.

  1. Potential invasive pest and disease threats.

Especially in the aftermath of the pandemic engrossing the world, there is a potential invasive threat of pests and diseases. While Florida industry representative Dan Richey finds the agreement of the country to import Chines citrus fruits close to lunacy, he emphasized the likely threats new imports could introduce to the nation. He stated

I am much more concerned with the invasive pest and disease risk, not only with the fruit but with pallets the fruit is shipped on. We are required to use heat-treated pallets to ensure no wood-boring insects are hitchhiking in the pallets. Again, the Chinese cannot be trusted to adhere to this rule and who knows what may arrive in these pallets and on our shores?

  1. Adherence to the Systematic Approach of Imports

Lastly, the USDA supported the decision based on the prerogative that if a systematic approach is adhered to in importing these fruits, then there is absolutely no cause of concern. But the question is who is to guarantee that such a systematic approach is being strictly followed?

This systematic approach demands that the growers, packers and shippers implement a methodical approach that minimizes the risk of pests. Limiting imports to commercial shipments alone, registering production sites & packaging plants, certifying the safety of the imports and that they are devoid of any pests or infections, regular inspection and sanitization of the production sites and proper disposal of waste. While these seem the best practices that must be followed to ensure safe consumption, Richey remarked, “If we think for one minute that China will hold their grower/packers to the standards required of a systems approach, we are fools.”

While the apparent impact of the imports on the market is believed to be small, the threat of introducing invasive varieties to the region is real and the subsequent adverse impact on the agricultural community cannot be overlooked. The decision seems to be ill-timed and irresponsible given what the industry has faced in the last decade as well as on account of the ongoing economic crisis.

What’s New in AgTech 2020

Investors are turning to AgTech in recent years, and it’s no mystery why. While much of the tech boom of the past couple decades has focused on saving time or money and entertainment, AgTech embodies higher ideals. The global population is predicted to grow to 9.8 billion by the year 2050, an increase that exceeds today’s food production capacity, so this technology is critical not only to moving humanity forward and reducing emissions, but to our survival.

On that dire note, let’s talk about what’s new in AgTech this year.

Tech-Savvy Farm Equipment

Farm equipment today isn’t your grandpa’s tractor, and it’s getting cooler by the day.

Drones are being developed to collect crop data, spread pesticides, selectively irrigate dry sections of fields to conserve water while improving yields, and even plant crops with utmost precision. Autonomous robots like the TerraSentia are being used to track plant health and field conditions. Custom farming is being carried out by autonomous vehicles (driverless tractors), as developed by up-and-coming AgTech company Sabanto. Wearable devices for animals are being developed and refined to monitor health, potentially heading off illness or other issues.

Data-Driven Farming and Land Management

As is the case in other industries, data and analytics are playing a big role in AgTech. Some data collection is being facilitated by specially developed devices as are mentioned above, but other data is gathered through networking.

Great data makes way for great analytics, helping to drive the ag industry

Great data makes way for great analytics, helping to drive the ag industry, from the fields to the boardroom, towards smarter, leaner, more productive operations.

Supply Chain Improvements

To get in line with recent years’ connectivity improvements in other industries, much of the agriculture industry is moving to more connected format. IoT sensors are being used to help track food through the supply chain, creating better accountability and understanding from fields to retail shelves. Companies like Intelliconn, with their VeriGrain data management program, are creating food supply chain game-changers.

Through networking, farmers and other supply chain players in the agriculture business are finding ways to communicate faster and better

Through networking, farmers and other supply chain players in the agriculture business are finding ways to communicate faster and better. When pricing, product information, and other pertinent data becomes readily available, everyone involved can make better decisions.

AgTech isn’t necessarily a new revelation. Farmers and ranchers have been looking to new tech to improve their operations for centuries, but the food supply chain is evolving faster than ever.

AgTech isn’t necessarily a new revelation. Farmers and ranchers have been looking to new tech to improve their operations for centuries, but the food supply chain is evolving faster than ever. Wondering how you can keep up? Call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to set up a consultation with one of our supply chain experts who can help you springboard your agricultural logistics operation into 2020 and beyond.

Transporting Perishable Goods? Some Important Factors to Consider.

Transporting perishable goods and fresh produce is fraught with higher risks than most surface transportation, there is a risk of spoilage, loss of freshness and quality.

Perishable goods require a specialized service provider with intimate knowledge of refrigerated trailers, or reefers. It enables the movement of goods like fruits, vegetables, seafood, some medicine and other pharma products, dairy and bakery products, meat, and flowers and plants. Refrigerated trucking helps connect farmers, bakers, meat production plants, pharma companies with markets and ensures end customers even at remote locations get fresh and quality products.

While North America has a static network for refrigerated transportation, its demand significantly increases out of regions with active harvests, commonly referred to as “Produce Season”

While North America has a static network for refrigerated transportation, its demand significantly increases out of regions with active harvests, commonly referred to as “Produce Season”. Given that the season is now in full swing, let’s take a look at what factors should be considered by both shippers and transportation partners while facilitating the movement of fresh produce and perishable goods.

What important factors should shippers keep in mind while transporting fresh produce?

Each fresh produce or perishable product has a specific shipping requirement, like the mode of transportation, type of container, temperature settings, and the transit time it can tolerate.

If even one of the transport requirements of perishables is not met, the goods can become unfit for consumption or further processing.

If even one of the transport requirements of perishables is not met, the goods can become unfit for consumption or further processing. To ensure that this does not happen, here are a few points that shippers must keep in mind while transporting their fresh produce:

Complete Product Knowledge: This is non-negotiable. For safe and smooth transport of their perishable products or fresh produce, it is necessary for shippers to clearly define these expectations to their warehousing and transportation partners.  Some important things that shippers and their teams should share about the fresh/perishable product they deal in are:

  • Packaging requirements of the product.
  • The best method and transport mode to ship it.
  • What is the temperature requirement – are there OptiSet or Intelliset temperature settings available
  • The temperature needs of the product while in transit and what is proper protocol if an issue arises in transit.
  • Tolerable transit time for the product to aide in the recovery of delay
  • Food safety requirements unique to your product
  • The documents/formalities required in both the importing and exporting state/country.

Conduct a Market Study: It’s important to find the right market for fresh produce, especially for those products that spoil easily.  It’s financially beneficial for the shipper if this product reaches the market quickly and in good condition. It’s also beneficial for the buyers as they get better quality and fresh products. So, before you decide on a specific market, conduct a study to find out:

  1. When and where your product is going to be in peak demand, consider local growing seasons you will be competing with.
  2. The rate at which you can deliver and distribute in the given market
  3. The transit time to various markets and how fast can you replenish.
  4. Outlets or Wholesale partners in the event of a quality rejection
  5. Any specific customs formalities/documents required by the importing state for this product

Once you have this information ready, you can pick the best possible combination of market, rate, and transport requirements.

Choose the Right Transporter: If fresh produce is not managed correctly during transit, the quality and shelf life can be negatively affected. Thus, the choice of the transportation provider can make a huge difference in how your product is shipped. So, when you’re searching for a transportation partner, you must check the following:

  1. The track record of the transportation provider in moving perishable goods.
  2. Do they have the requisite experience, and references?
  3. Is the equipment well-maintained, cleaned, and serviced regularly?
  4. Are the drivers trained to manage the special equipment and carry perishable or fresh produce?
  5. Do they have tie-ups with service centers en route, in case the equipment or vehicle needs emergency servicing?
  6. Can they replace the container or the carrier in case of a breakdown?
  7. What is the transit time being offered and do they have the ability to expedite?
  8. Does the provider have ample capacity to be flexible in a fluid situation?

In the event you can use a multimodal approach to ship your cargo, carry out this exercise for all the providers. Also look for opportunities to consolidate where transportation providers have multiple service lines.

Provide Clear Instructions: Once you’ve selected the transporter(s), it is important to communicate instructions specific to your product clearly to them. Make sure they know how the product is to be handled, the temperature to be maintained throughout the transit, and if it is an LTL shipment, then which products/goods can it not be carried with or kept close to. In the case of multimodal transportation, provide a set of instructions to each transportation partner and make sure each provider knows who to hand over the cargo and onward shipping instructions to.

Communication with the Buyer: It’s often observed that while the goods reach the destination safely, they get spoiled at the buyer’s facility for lack of proper instructions on how to manage/store the goods. Hence, it is necessary to make sure that proper instructions have also been communicated to the buyer.

Get Adequate Insurance Coverage: Transporting perishables and fresh produce is expensive. There is also a risk of spoilage on the way. This is why insurance is critical in such cases. Before you put your cargo in transit, make sure you have the right insurance coverage for the cargo. This will ensure that you have financial support in case the cargo does not reach the destination in the best condition.

What Important Factors Should the Transporters Keep in Mind When Transporting Fresh Produce?

The transportation provider is responsible for the perishable products while the goods are in transit. Hence, it is necessary for transportation providers to also have a checklist for perishable goods and fresh produce. Here are some important points that they should keep in mind when accepting fresh produce goods for transportation:

  1. Communicate Clearly with the Shipper: Transporting perishable goods is time sensitive. Make sure you share the correct information regarding transit time, the route to be taken, contingency plans, and documentation requirements, with the shipper at the time of inquiry. This not only helps the shipper make an informed decision, but also helps your business avoid unnecessary risks.
  2. Get All Required Details from the Shipper: The transportation provider should double-check if the shipper has supplied all the required information or not. In case any crucial detail regarding the product is missing, they should proactively ask for it from the shipper prior to departing in order to avoid delays in transit
  3. Discuss Packaging Requirements: Check with the shipper how the goods will be packed and labeled. In case there are any specific requirements for packaging and labeling at your end, communicate the same to the shipper. It is important to get the packaging and labeling right in case of perishable goods as they need to be handled with care and can spoil easily.
  4. Understand Handling and Temperature Instructions: For perishable goods, the transportation provider needs to understand how the goods are to be handled and what temperature is to be maintained while the goods are in transit. Also, check if there are any specific guidelines on how the temperature is to be managed while the cargo is being loaded/unloaded.
  5. Assist the Shipper with Documentation: Fresh produce and perishable goods often have more documentation needs than regular cargo. Sometimes shippers, especially those new to the trade, are not aware of the cross-border documentation. In such cases, it becomes the transportation providers’ duty to make sure the shipper completes all documentation requirements in the right format. This not only helps complete the shipment formalities but also helps the trucker while crossing the state borders.
  6. Service the Reefers Before Allotting: The transportation provider should make sure the reefer is properly serviced, cleaned, and checked before it is allotted to the shipper. They should also monitor the temperature throughout the transit and report any discrepancies to the shipper.
  7. Train Your Drivers to Handle Perishable Goods: For transporting perishable cargo safely, it is essential to have experienced and trained drivers on board. The driver should understand the handling instructions of the fresh produce and be able to manage temperature settings of the reefer container.
  8. Update the Shipper Timely: Share regular status updates with the shipper while the goods are in transit. In case there are any issues with the container or temperature monitor, inform the shipper immediately, and seek alternative solutions.
  9. Deliver On-Time: It’s a good practice for logistics and trucking service providers to deliver goods on time. In the case of perishable goods and fresh produce, on-time delivery is crucial as even a slight delay in transit can affect the quality of goods, spoil them or make them unfit for consumption. Hence, it is necessary to make sure that the entire team handling the cargo understands the importance of on-time delivery!

If you’re looking for a reliable partner to transport your fresh produce and perishable goods, get in touch with our team today! We not only take responsibility for delivering your goods on time but also ensure that you get access to an online platform powered with advanced technology to plan and monitor your shipments more effectively!