Question: We hauled a load of lettuce from Arizona to Texas. We were late arriving by a few hours, but the receiver indicated that this was not a problem. While the lettuce was being unloaded, the receiver said it was showing some problems and told us he was calling for an inspection. The inspection was done a few hours later and indicated pulp temperatures of 37 degrees. The lettuce failed to make grade due to high percentages of russet spotting and tipburn. There was only 1 percent decay. The receiver now says that there will be a truck claim. I don't think there should be. What do you say?
Answer: I don't see anything to indicate that this was a truck problem. The decay on the lettuce was nearly nonexistent and tipburn and russet spotting are growing condition problems that cannot be caused by a truck. On top of that, you sent me your bills, which indicated temperatures to be maintained were 36 degrees and you arrived showing 37 degrees. It looks to me that you have a receiver who wants to see if you are going to contest this claim and if you don't, he doesn't have to worry about claiming his shipper. This is unethical, but unfortunately, not uncommon in the produce industry. I would let this receiver know that you have no intention of accepting this claim.
Question: I have read several of your articles lately in which you were "beating the drum" for produce regulation. Do you really think this will happen and if you do, how do you see it working?
Answer: I don't know if it will happen or not. I can tell you that sitting around and talking about it or me writing about it isn't going to make it happen. To that end, I would ask you how you see it happening. You as a carrier and all of your fellow carriers are the people that have the power to make this happen. It will take lobbying in Washington. It will mean talking to congressional representatives. It will take the help of your industry associations. Most importantly, it will take a clear-cut plan. I think the biggest issue that needs to be addressed is the frivolous produce claims regularly filed against truckers by shippers and receivers. If a government entity would study documentation (or lack thereof) on these claims and issue a legal and binding decision, this would go a long way toward solving some of the problems. Would it be the Perishable Agriculture Commodities Act (PACA) or some other organization? I don't know. I think PACA would be the group who is the most knowledgeable of these types of problems. The other part of this equation is the fact that a licensed carrier and/or broker would have to be willing to lose their license if a ruling was issued against them and they failed to abide by it. It would have to work both ways, in my opinion. The bottom line is that this problem exists and occurs everyday in the produce business. We as an industry need to address it, and fast.
Question: Where would I find out what commodities are and are not compatible?
Answer: The USDA published a booklet called Protecting Perishable Foods During Transport by Truck, which I refer to on a regular basis. Not only does this booklet cover compatibility, but it also addresses specific temperatures to maintain for each produce commodity, loading patterns, refrigeration methods, etc. To order a copy, write to: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Transportation and Marketing Division, Washington, DC, 20250. Incidentally, we have published much of the same information in our series of produce industry handbooks, which we ship free to RBCS members annually.
Question: I hauled two loads through a broker and did not get paid on either one. The broker says the receiver claims to have cash flow problems and can't pay now. The broker says we should sue and that he will pick up half of the court costs if I pick up the other half. I think that the entire cost should be the broker's responsibility since I got the loads from him. Am I right?
Answer: This is a commonly asked question regarding the responsibilities of the broker. I think the broker is being generous in offering to pay half of the legal costs. The broker has a moral responsibility to make an attempt at solving your problem, but a true broker does not have a legal obligation to pay you unless there are specifics to that end in the contract. This is why I constantly preach the fact that your credit check should go beyond the broker and should extend to the shipper and receiver as well.