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Trucking Industry

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!

Vertical Farming: The Next Level of Produce

The overall Consumer Price Index (CPI) has seen a nominal increase of 0.1 percent for the 12 month period ending May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this is an average across all measured goods and services, food is showing something completely different. According to the CPI, the total food index has increased by 4.0 percent while the food at home index has jumped up by 4.8 percent.

Month-over-month, there has been an increase in the cost of food, most notably a 3.7 percent increase for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. Beef, in particular, has seen a massive up jump at 10.8 percent, the largest monthly increase ever.

Month-over-month, there has been an increase in the cost of food, most notably a 3.7 percent increase for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. Beef, in particular, has seen a massive up jump at 10.8 percent, the largest monthly increase ever. This created an obvious concern for increasing prices in consumers and retailers alike, both of which are bracing themselves for further price increases as food production struggles with a myriad of issues, ranging from plant closures to the loss of farm labor.

While we can attribute at least some of the CPI increases due to more people dusting off their cookbooks during the quarantine period, there are other issues to consider as well. Arable land is subject to both inconsistent weather conditions as well as natural disasters. For example, an unexpected frost can wipe out an entire crop causing a significant delay in production and output. While that’s not great for farmers, it can also create shortages in the food market at both the consumer and commercial level. However, that might be an issue of the past before too much longer as indoor, vertical farms begin to take root.

Growing UP with the Fifth Season

For the uninitiated, vertical farming (as we are discussing) is the concept of growing consumables in a stacked and modular fashion which drastically increases crop yield per acre than traditional farming.

Vertical farming is actually a rather old idea. Indigenous peoples used vertically layered growing techniques like the rice terraces of East Asia. The term vertical farming was coined by American geologist Gilbert Ellis Bailey in 1915. In 1999, Dickson Despommier, a professor at New York’s Columbia University, popularized the modern idea of vertical farming, building upon the idea together with his students,”

Not only is the indoor farming movement growing, it’s thriving.

“It is the inefficiencies across the supply chain from farm to truck to packer to supermarket and foodservice that has fueled the burgeoning indoor farming industry, which in 2017 accounted for $106.6 billion and expected to reach $171.12 billion by 2026 growing at a CAGR of 5.4 percent during this period, according to the Worldwide Indoor Farming Market Report,” according to a recent article from Forbes.

Fifth Season is an indoor farming company, based just outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, combines vertical farming concepts with proprietary robotics and artificial intelligence.

While neither indoor nor vertical farming is anything new, after all greenhouses have been around since the 1800s, Fifth Season is taking vertical farming to a whole new level. Fifth Season is an indoor farming company, based just outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, combines vertical farming concepts with proprietary robotics and artificial intelligence. CEO and co-founder of Fifth Season, Austin Webb, is looking to disrupt the nation’s produce market by creating a completely new category of “hyper-local” fresh produce. Currently, two of Fifth Seasons’ biggest clients are the Giant Eagle supermarket chain and Whole Foods.

At 25,000 sq.-ft growing space, Webb’s company is seeing double the yield of traditional vertical farms, almost 500,000 lbs of produce in the first full year of operation. What’s even more impressive is the produce is grown using 95 percent less water and 97 percent less land than conventional farming. All of which is grown without the need for pesticides and has an average shelf life that lasts for weeks instead of a few days that is normal for shipped produce.

A New Future for Farming Supply Chain

Unfortunately for produce, the supply chain just isn’t nearly efficient enough for large scale distribution. Produce is typically harvested, then loaded onto a truck to be shipped for packing or processing. From there it’s loaded onto another truck before it reaches its final destination. That leads to a higher risk of spoilage and shrink.  Fifth Seasons use of machine learning, AI, and computer vision gives them the ability to track and trace down to an individual tray within their farm. Webb says this gives his company and its customers a whole new level of transparency that wasn’t previously available. The technology creates information from “seed, to harvest, to package, to a doorstep, to a table (or store shelf).”

This is about more than just fresh vegetables, however. This level of vertical farming has some interesting implications for the supply chain as a whole.

This is about more than just fresh vegetables, however. This level of vertical farming has some interesting implications for the supply chain as a whole. For starters, it drastically cuts down on the total mileage that fresh produces need to travel which, in turn, lowers overall food costs and transportation costs for customers. Moreover, hyper localization of production could lead to an interesting shift in logistics and food production in general.

A Cool Move for BlueGrace

Produce, like many perishables, requires the use of refrigerated trucks to keep goods fresh as they travel across the country. With vertical farms like Fifth Season boasting such a prodigious level of production, the need for reefer units will be that much greater. That is why we are proud to announce our newest acquisition, Anthym Logistics which has significantly bolstered our refrigerated truckload capacity for our customers. To learn more about Anthym and BlueGrace or to see how we can help your operations, visit us here.

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.

Why Are Heavy Duty Truck Orders So Low In North America?

The ongoing slump that had begun in October 2018 had started to affect the Class 8 truck market in early 2019. While there were a few months during the year where orders for heavy-duty trucks peaked – although not as high as the previous two years, it was all in all a slow year for the industry.  

How bad is the situation? 

An article in Wolf Street shared numbers released by the FTR Transportation Intelligence for 2019. According to the report: during the year there were 179,000 orders for Class 8 trucks. This was a drastic reduction of 64% when compared to the 497,000 orders during 2018. The difference in the orders in just the span of a year is telling of the difficulties that the trucking manufacturing industry is set to face until the freight market stabilizes. 

More recently, on February 19, 2020, in a write up on the issue Freight Waves shared: “The ratio of retails sales of Class 8 trucks to inventory in January 2020 ranked second-highest in the industry history, trailing only the worst month of the Great Recession a decade ago”, signaling that the heavy-duty vehicle market may continue to experience a downward trend for some more time. 

What’s the cause?

The cause of the current turmoil faced by the Class 8 truck manufacturing industry can be broadly bifurcated into two parts. 

The first reason stems from the slowdown in the manufacturing sector. It has a direct impact on the orders fleets place for new trucks.

The first reason stems from the slowdown in the manufacturing sector. It has a direct impact on the orders fleets place for new trucks. If the sector is doing well, there is a demand to increase the fleet size, hence more orders for new trucks. On the other hand, when it is experiencing a slowdown, trucking companies hold back on increasing their fleet size – exactly what is happening now. 

The current economic and political scenario in the country has put a strain on the manufacturing industry. The US and China trade war which began in 2018 and the tariffs imposed by the two countries on each other has been detrimental for business and allied service providers, including truck manufacturers. If we are to consider the disruption that the Coronavirus is causing in global trade, we can presume that it will be a while before the freight business picks up again. 

The other reason industry experts are giving for the drop in Class 8 orders is a market correction.

The other reason industry experts are giving for the drop in Class 8 orders is a market correction. Monitor Daily quotes Act Research’s President and senior analyst, Kenny Vieth explaining the downturn: “After peak sales and build in 2019, significant declines are ahead in 2020, as heavy-duty sales and build follow the net orders trend down. But if our forecast of ongoing (but slower) economic expansion holds in 2020, the drop will be a correction (along the lines of 2015 and 2016), not a devastating recession (as in 2008 and 2009).”  

What’s the impact? 

The declining order book for Class 8 trucks has already started to show its impact. According to reports, quite a few truck makers including larger manufacturers like Volvo, Mack Trucks, Daimler, and Navistar have already gone through a round off layoffs or are considering cutting their workforce and reducing their production plans. For example, Cummins, the engine maker is reported to have planned laying off around 2000 workers in early 2020 and Navistar has already gone through two rounds of layoffs last year. When the bigger companies are taking such drastic measures, it will be difficult for the smaller manufacturers to tide over this recessionary phase. 

The cost of maintaining and managing the excess inventory will be another issue that the truck manufacturers will have to deal with.

The cost of maintaining and managing the excess inventory will be another issue that the truck manufacturers will have to deal with. According to reports, the inventory to sales ratio was 3.9 months in January, which is much higher than the industry’s normal average of 2 to 2.5 months. Till this excess inventory is not sold off, the truck makers may have to further cut production plans and bear an additional burden of their operating funds. 

This problem doesn’t end at the manufacturers. Even the dealers who may have taken additional inventory of Class 8 trucks when the market was good, will now have to either hold the inventory till there are buyers in the market or sell their inventory at a discount. Either way, it will have a negative impact on their bottom line. 

Till the freight business does not pick up, it will be a rough ride for all the stakeholders in the ecosystem be it – shippers, carriers or truck manufacturers. 

However, companies that have built-in diversity in their supply chain – keeping in mind the cyclical and uncertain nature of trade and keep a rigorous check on it, have a better chance of surviving such downturns. If you want to know what are the weak points of your supply and how you can strengthen it, get in touch with our team for a supply chain analysis today! 

Commercial Trucking: The Battle of the VMT Tax

Our highways and transit infrastructure are mainly funded through the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which in turn is primarily funded by the federal motor fuel tax. Since 2001 the HTF has consistently spent more than it generates through highway and transit programs. The shortfall has been covered mainly by the $144 billion it’s received from the Treasury’s general fund. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the HTF will hit bottom by 2022. 

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso and Finance Committee member John Cornynhave proposed the S. 2302 bill which would impose a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax on commercial truckers. The bill is part of a three-prong approach, Barrasso and Cornyn are also looking to tax electric vehicles as well as index the motor fuels tax.

As cars increasingly become more efficient, and the use of electric cars become more prolific, fuel tax revenues decline accordingly. The tax on electric vehicles looks to regain the lost revenue, and with automakers planning to launch up to 100 new electric vehicles by 2023, it’s a good idea. But it’s a small piece of a massive puzzle.

Commercial trucks do take a heavier toll on our highways than lighter vehicles. Therefore, the VMT imposes a tax on the miles traveled. The heavier the truck, the more damage it does to our roads, which is why a scaled tax structure based on a truck’s configuration and weight. It sounds like a fair deal, those who do the most damage pay the highest bill. 

However, the industry argues, that they already pay a steeper sum than other highway users through fees, an excise tax on tires, and a heavier gasoline bill, paying six cents-per-gallon more than other motorists. Then there’s the question if the industry can support the increase, given the number of trucking companies that closed its doors in 2019, it’s a fair question. And lastly, could the tax be implemented in a fair and trustworthy manner? 

The CBO Report

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released Issues and Options for a Tax on Vehicle Miles Traveled by Commercial Trucks. The report provides an analysis of the VMT tax, including the tax base, the rate structure, the revenue that would be generated, and the implementation methods.

Using data on 2017 truck traffic, the CBO estimated that a tax of 1 cent per mile on all roads would have raised approximately $2.6 billion if imposed on all commercial trucks. However, in order to cover $14.6 billion that truck owners paid in 2017, as well as their proportional share of the $13.5 billion deficit, the tax would need to be increased to 7.5 cents per mile, which would have generated a total of $19.4 billion. The CBO warns two behavioral responses would result: a reduction in overall freight shipments and a shift in some freight traffic from trucks to rail. 

Together, the gasoline and diesel taxes yielded close to 90 percent of the $40.9 billion in revenues credited to the trust fund in the fiscal year 2017. Of that amount, $25.9 billion (64 percent) came from gasoline taxes and $9.8 billion (24 percent) from diesel fuel taxes. The three taxes that apply to trucks and other large vehicles generated revenues totaling $5.2 billion.

Capital and Implementation Costs

Three methods of implementation are offered: 

  • Electronic logging devices (ELD) installed in cars (capital costs would depend on the set of trucks included in the tax base, intermediate enforcement costs)
  • Collection booths or RFID readers on road gantries (significant capital costs, low enforcement costs) 
  • Periodic odometer reporting (no capital costs, high enforcement costs)

Although costs are uncertain, capital and implementation costs would, of course, cannibalize a portion of the revenue.

The Battle

The American Trucking Associations wants to raise fuel taxes by 5 cents annually over four years, which would bring in $340 billion over ten years. Although it continues to lack Senate support, The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) advocates for both an increased motor fuel tax and the VMT tax.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association(OOIDA) members aren’t mincing their words. In a letter written on February 24th to Chairmen Grassley and Barrasso, the OOIDA says the ARTBAs support of the VMT tax is “shameless, and exposes the organization’s ignorance.” Chris Spear, President of the American Trucking Associations, and Sheila Foertsch of the Wyoming Trucking Association call the tax discriminatory

Trucking-aligned farm groupswant broad-based funding mechanisms and caution the VMT would place a disproportionate share of the burden on freight transportation and would leave U.S. agriculture at a competitive disadvantage against foreign competitors.

As the ARTBA pointed out in their letter, if a controversy-free solution existed, it would have been enacted years ago. But America’s infrastructure is failing, and transportation investment is coming up short by the tune of $1.1 trillion by 2025.  According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’failure to Act study, by 2025, the nation will have lost almost $800 billion in GDP and have 440,000 fewer jobs due to transportation system deficiencies. Time is of the essence.

Middle of the Road for the Trucking Industry

Of all the industries that American consumers have come to rely on, perhaps the most underrated, and subsequently complex, is that of the transportation industry. While the laws of supply and demand will affect every form of business it is perhaps the most volatile and fluctuating when applied to the transportation industry. Last year was a great year for trucking companies, demand was high, capacity was low, and it allowed them to more or less pick and choose the jobs they wanted to do.

With so many wild swings in one direction or another, we’re entering a period of “new” balance that no one is quite sure of.

Shippers, for their part, have accepted the higher rates as an understood cost of business, but with so many wild swings in one direction or another, we’re entering a period of “new” balance that no one is quite sure of. Shippers that turned to contracts to escape the high rates are now making a return to the spot market as there’s plenty of available capacity currently on the market.

Aptly put, this “muddy middle” for the trucking department is a rare moment when supply and demand have reached something of an equilibrium, something that hasn’t been seen for years. Spot rates for FTL have dropped upwards of 12 percent from this time last year while contract rates, on the other hand, have climbed up 14 percent in 2018 according to data from DAT Solutions and Truckstop.com. Shippers that turned to contracts to escape the high rates are now making a return to the spot market as there’s plenty of available capacity currently on the market.

Given such a high volume of transference, it might have actually created an overly strong demand on contract rates which would have caused them to increase.

It’s rather reasonable at this point to speculate that the current shift towards the muddy middle was caused by overcompensations. Beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) reacted to the rate spike mid 2017 by shifting over to contract rates. Given such a high volume of transference, it might have actually created an overly strong demand on contract rates which would have caused them to increase.

Going into 2019, carriers and 3PLs were using terms such as “balanced” and “equilibrium” to describe the current state of the market. However, that might not be entirely accurate, or, at least not strong enough of a prediction to hold fast in the days to come.

The transportation industry is precariously balanced amidst two slippery slopes and it could go one way or the other.

“With contract and spot rates currently headed in different directions, it’s unclear exactly how this will all play out. IHS Markit chief economist Nariman Behravesh put the odds of a recession in 2019 at around 30 percent but upped that chance to 50-50 for 2020. A recession would mean lower cargo volumes, which would drive down both contract and spot rates, creating a buyer’s market,” according to an article from the JOC. Hence, the muddy middle. The transportation industry is precariously balanced amidst two slippery slopes and it could go one way or the other.

Hitting Bottom

Given the nature of the industry, balance doesn’t tend to last overly long. Eventually, rates will break either one way or the other to someone’s advantage (or disadvantage depending on your perspective.)

“A lot of shippers who started the process in the third or fourth quarter, they saw the rates [moving] in the right direction for them, so they actually held out on releasing the awards until mid-January or even into February,” said Mark Ford, our very own chief operating officer here at BlueGrace Logistics. “Shippers are trying to figure out where that bottom is, throwing out their routing guides, and going to the spot market depending on the cost differential.”

Shippers aren’t the only one that has a card or two up their sleeve.

Given that time is such a commodity, shippers have the power to drive rates in either direction, depending on what value they attribute to their time. However, shippers aren’t the only one that has a card or two up their sleeve. Given a recent downturn in the trucker pool in addition to more stringent regulations that make it harder to operate, carriers might have a little more say about carrier rates than one might expect.

A Drop In the Trucker Pool

While shippers can garner some power to affect rates, that doesn’t mean that carriers aren’t without an answer. A recent report from the Wall Street Journal states that carriers have cut payrolls by 1,200 jobs last month, owing largely to a softening of demand at the tail of a profit-boosting hot streak all through 2018. The drop in demand for new trucks is also a good indicator of a softening in the trucking sector.

“Orders for Class-8 trucks – the heavy trucks that haul consumer goods, equipment, commodities, and supplies across the US to feed the goods-based economy – plunged 52% in April compared to April last year, to 16,400 orders, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence on Friday. It was the lowest April since 2016 when the industry cycled through its last transportation recession. This comes after orders had already plunged 67% year-over-year in March, 58% in February and January, and 43% in December,” reads a recent article from Wolfstreet.

The flip-side of that particular coin is that warehousing and storage company job positions have been on the rise, up 1,700 in March alone, likely due to the continual increase on online consumer shopping. Same can be said for courier and messenger companies that make last mile deliveries.

In general, the transportation market, which has been ramping up over 2017 and 2018 is beginning to slow down, allowing them to control their overall available capacity and their spot or contract rates as a result.

Utilization seems to be the key to determining which way the rates will go. Shippers should be using this time to consider how they can vastly reduce their load times and what sort of effect that would have on the available capacity in the market. Given that there’s no clear indication of which way the market winds will blow next, focusing on optimization and utilization could be the necessary elements to not only help drive rates down, but to keep them down.

For carriers, the means of reaching a perpetual middle of the road would be to find alternative service offerings as well as increasing their focus on last mile deliveries. Doing so allows them to provide more value to their customers and increase their profit margins as a result.

Navigating Through Industry Changes

BlueGrace helps our customers navigate through the constant changes the industry brings. No matter the situation, we are here to simplify your freight needs. If you have any questions about how a 3PL like BlueGrace can assist, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak with a representative today!

Attracting the Next Generation of Truckers

As time changes, the views and opinions of the generations that follow will also change. As the baby boomers are beginning to approach the golden age of retirement, new generations are starting to step up to the plate. This is creating a shakeup for the global economy as a whole. We’re seeing a change in aspirations as well as life goals in those that are entering the workforce. For some industries, it has created a renaissance of new ideas, innovations, leaders, and visionaries.

Simply put, the U.S trucking industry is facing a driver shortage of which it has never seen before.

Other sectors, like the trucking industry, might have a harder time attracting new prospects. Simply put, the U.S trucking industry is facing a driver shortage of which it has never seen before. As manufacturing and retail sales continue to increase, shippers and carriers alike are scrambling to find the capacity to keep freight moving, resulting in many shipments being up-charged or left behind. “A 2017 report by the American Trucking Association noted that the industry needs to hire almost 900,000 more drivers to meet rising demand, while the latest jobs report noted that 185,000 jobs have been added over the past four months alone,” according to a recent article from MSNBC 

 “The shipping infrastructure is facing a tight capacity crunch this year, and the small to mid-sized business shipper will feel the upward pressure in raised rates due to the lack of drivers and trucks available,” said Tim Story, EVP of freight operations at Unishippers. “The new mandate could result in a 4-8 percent loss in capacity (available trucks on the road).” 

To make matters worse, the average age of truck drivers on the road today is 55, which means many will be considering retirement in the near future. As qualified drivers begin to leave the field, there is a concern that there won’t be enough new drivers to replace them. In order to attract fresh blood and new talent for the industry, trucking companies are focusing their efforts on the newest generation of up and coming young adults: the self-oriented Millennials, who are in their twenties and thirties.  

Trucking is a Hard Sell  

While there is plenty of talent to choose from in the millennial pool, trucking is a hard sell when it comes to attracting new drivers. Truck driving doesn’t necessarily carry the glamorous reputation that some industries might have. Long hours and time spent away from home seem to be a deterrent for many who would consider getting behind the wheel.

While some trucking companies are willing to foot the bill for the education, that’s not a universal standard – at least not yet.  

Additionally, there’s the need for a CDL commercial driver’s license which is required to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds. It takes both time and money to obtain. While some trucking companies are willing to foot the bill for the education, that’s not a universal standard – at least not yet.  

With that being said, it’s still a considerable commitment for someone fresh out of school who is trying to decide what to do with their life. Younger drivers will also be facing an age barrier as well as you need to be 21 and over to be able to cross state lines. Even if trucking companies were able to recruit younger drivers, there’s still going to be a time restraint before a young aspirant can become a full-fledged trucker.  That timing can make a big difference too. A millennial fresh out of high school isn’t able to enter into the field, which means by the time they can they’ve likely moved on to a different career field. Recruitment is also proving to be a challenge for the trucking industry as well.

Until a recruitment solution is identified, it will continue to be a problem.

While many trucking companies are starting to pay for ad space on social media sites in an attempt to find new drivers, the cost vs. yield is out of balance. “Carriers are having to spend more money on advertising to get people to apply, but only getting one to two drivers out of each 100 applications they receive,” said Story. “Between the training required, predominantly male-dominated field, age hurdles and more, carriers are having to pay drivers higher rates that will continue to increase. Right now, there aren’t enough qualified drivers in the applicant pool to satisfy the needs of the industry. Until a recruitment solution is identified, it will continue to be a problem.”  

Changing the Demographic  

Another issue for the trucking industry is that it is predominately male. According to Ellen Voie the president and CEO of the Women In Trucking (WIT) Association, only about seven percent of the entire trucking fleet in the U.S is made up of women. While this made sense for the physical requirements necessary twenty years ago, that’s no longer the case. “There’s very little physical exertion anymore,” says Voie “Even the hood releases and the dollies are hydraulic. You just push a button. WIT’s mission is to work with truck manufacturers and trucking companies alike to promote women in the industry and to help reduce the obstacles faced by women in the trucking industry. By making the industry more accessible for women, it will help to ease the driver shortage by increasing the available pool of drivers to get behind the wheel.   

Autonomous Trucks Will be Good for the Industry  

Conventional wisdom believes that automated trucking will simply remove the need for human drivers, but that isn’t the case, or at least it won’t be for quite some time. However, the trucking industry does stand to gain from the addition of autonomous trucking.

While Millennials might hold the keys to the future, reaching out to them will be the challenge.  

Autonomous trucks will still need a human driver to navigate urban settings as well as handling the more intricate aspects of entering and exiting highways. The technological aspect alone can help to attract younger drivers, while the added safety features might make the field more accessible to younger drivers and women alike while reducing the amount of training necessary to get them on the road. In any event, the trucking industry has its work cut out for it, especially as the driver shortage problem continues to worsen. While Millennials might hold the keys to the future, reaching out to them will be the challenge.  

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The Silver-Lining of Superstorm Sandy

With initial estimates of economic losses due to Sandy reaching into the $30-$50 billion range, it’s strange to think that there could actually be a silver-lining to such a detrimental cloud. And in fact, the trucking industry alone suffered around a whopping $140 million per day loss. This number is based on 20% of the industry not moving freight because of Sandy’s aftermath. However, with these dismal numbers at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it’s wise to note that some trucking companies do actually benefit from natural disasters.

The clean-up and rebuilding phase following the super storm is what gives the transportation industry its light at the end of the tunnel. Fleets are expected to see an increase in activity in the coming months with demand on the rise. Construction companies and the flatbed carriers that haul their materials will experience quite the surge.

Flatbed carriers aren’t the only ones to have a boost in freight, however. Dry van carriers will also see a boom in business with retailers needing to replenish depleted goods on store shelves. Though many will experience a loss initially, the storm’s resulting damage will create new demand later. The immediate need for restocking, for example, is one that only the time-sensitive characteristic of trucking can provide. Not only is it excess work because everything is rushed, it’s also out of normal route, and people are willing to pay more. All of this in turn, leads to a faster recovery for the industry. FTR (Freight Transportation Research Association) Senior Consultant Noel Perry predicts that the losses caused by the storm, will ultimately be recovered due to resupply and rebuilding truck freight needs. Perry predicts the storm will generate $15 billion in additional revenue for trucking over the next three or four quarters.

Sandy’s disruption to replenishing food, gas and other goods serves as a glaring reminder that freight transportation is the backbone that supports our everyday life.  Whether a storm for you causes a loss or a sudden boom in business, you still need to have a plan for whatever comes next. Though you cannot predict, you can prepare. Check out the checklist we developed to help prepare your supply chain for natural disasters!

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