People in the produce industry say good produce carriers are hard to find. It seems to be a common trend. Shipper-growers who have just brought a crop in say they can't find enough trucks to haul it to market. Transportation brokers state they need more good produce carriers. Trucking companies offer signing bonuses to land drivers. And so it goes. I don't pretend to be a soothsayer, but I've seen it coming for a long time.
I see the produce industry like this: Somebody grows it, somebody sells it, somebody buys it, trucks deliver it and consumers eat it. Take the trucks out of this equation and what do you have? You have a mess, and believe me, that is where we're heading.
I think many produce truckers are simply fed up. Fed up with soaring fuel prices, fed up with unjustified produce claims, fed up with an industry that has a hurry up and wait attitude, fed up with a PACA that protects everyone in the industry but them and fed up with being treated like second-class citizens. I don't mean to say that these things are an across-the-board problem in the industry, but they exist. And, if you are involved in this industry and you don't think they exist, you're in denial.
It's hard not to sound negative when discussing this subject. I've been watching this happen for the 22 years I've been with Red Book. Now, good shippers, good receivers and good brokers are seeing problems with truck shortages and driver shortages when they have treated trucks and truckers with the respect they deserve for years. It is now becoming an industry-wide problem. The fact of the matter is that we, as an industry, are allowing it to happen.
We don't have any type of regulation or enforcement entity intact to determine whose fault a problem load is. It is not always a truck problem. Not having an entity to determine the cause of the problem is a breeding ground for erroneous truck claims and deductions. If it is a legitimate truck problem, let's document it, get an official ruling on it, if necessary, and get on with our lives. Good receivers do that now, but there are also receivers out there who provide no documentation, no inspections, no nothing, but a deduction based on a figure pulled out of thin air. Their attitude is "there is always going to be another truck." Maybe the day is coming when there won't be another truck. We need to level the playing field.
We not only need to treat produce haulers with a little dignity, but we also need to encourage more of them to get into hauling produce. I have attended many produce conventions and I could count on one hand the number of good trucking seminars that were provided. Most of the time they don't exist and when they do, nobody attends. We need to show some interest. For that matter, why can't we have hauling produce seminars at the major truck shows? The number of calls I receive weekly indicates (at least to me) that this type of function would be well attended. I'll even help put it on if someone wants to call me.
The bottom line is this industry needs to embrace the produce carriers as the vital cogs that they are. Without them, we have problems. And carriers, don't shy away from produce loads because of things you've heard or because of a bad experience you might have had. There are many good receivers, shippers and transportation brokers in the produce industry. Find them. If you are constantly getting claimed, maybe you are just dealing with the wrong firms. There are too many good loads available and too many good people in the industry to take unnecessary risks. Produce buyers, sellers and carriers should not have an "us against them" attitude. It is time we started working together.