CA citrus freeze leaves produce haulers searching for loads

| 2/1/2007

The recent severe citrus freeze in California has left many produce haulers waiting around with empty trailers and dwindling profit margins.

State officials have estimated that more than $1 billion worth of citrus was destroyed by the deep freeze, which is having devastating financial consequences for truckers who make their living transporting produce out of the Central Valley in the winter months.

"It is a dire situation out here," OOIDA member DuWayne Marshall of Watertown, WI, told Land Line Magazine on Thursday, Feb. 1. "It took a driver that is leased to the same carrier I am eight days to find a load out of California."

And that's not uncommon these days, he said.

"The truck stops are just packed right now with drivers waiting for a load," DuWayne said.

The dilemma he said he and other drivers are facing in California is whether to accept a load at a freight rate that is far less than what they would normally be paid for a load, or to sit and wait to see if a good-paying load will pop up.

With freight rates dropping daily, drivers aren't sure what to do, DuWayne said.

He said some produce haulers have become so frustrated with the situation, they are looking to head to other large citrus states, like Florida and Georgia, to find loads.

An influx of new drivers to those areas could financially impact truckers who already cover those parts of the country, DuWayne said.

"This could have a huge ripple effect in the transportation community," he said.

DuWayne is leased to LTL Service of Wisconsin, headquartered in South Milwaukee, WI. He said that while his company loads him out to California, he is responsible for his return loads. He said on his current trip he has experienced a $1,700 drop in revenue due to the lack of citrus.

"Before the freeze, the cost of a box of Sunkist oranges was between $12 and $14, not including my transportation costs," he said. "After the freeze, Sunkist raised the cost to between $32 and $34 a box and adding my transportation costs would make it around $36 a box, instead of around $16 a box before the freeze."

Overall, it has already been a lean season for truckers who make their living hauling produce from the Central Valley, said Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA regulatory affairs specialist.

"Recently, E. coli outbreaks related to spinach and lettuce have created financial burdens for many small-business truckers because of the decreasing demand for leafy greens," he said.

"Now, they are being hit again because shipments out of California have plummeted because of the citrus freeze. This is also having a dramatic negative effect on rates being paid on remaining available loads."

- By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer