Truck Rates Soaring, and The Sky May Not Be The Limit

On April 17, 2020, Fresh Kist Produce in Nipomo, CA, secured a truck for a Boston-bound load for $6,400. Almost exactly a year later, on Monday, April 19, 2021, the Santa Maria Valley shipper sent off another truck on the same route with a contracted freight rate of $10,600.

“Who knows what it will be when we start competing again the fruit guys in the (San Joaquin) Valley,” said Denny Donovan, Fresh Kist sales manager.

He noted that the cross-country freight rates occasionally flirt with $10,000 but never this early in the year. “We’ve been told the rates could be 35 to 50 percent higher this summer. A couple of brokers have told us they can’t get drivers. Too many of them are supposedly staying home collecting stimulus checks and not driving.”

Donovan said the high freights are another cross for western growers and shippers to bear. “With rates like that, our East Coast customers are buying local, home grown and from eastern Canada.”

Of course, buying closer to home will decrease the rates but it is still not going to be easy to get trucks.

Bill Nardelli Sr., president of Nardelli Bros. Inc.-Lakeview Farms in Cedarville, NJ, told The Produce News, “this is the first time I can ever remember having to tell a customer (on the Eastern seaboard) that we can’t be there tomorrow. We can’t find enough equipment. That’s unheard of. It’s not a question of price — the price finds itself. We just can’t get the equipment no matter what we are willing to pay.”

The veteran shipper said Nardelli has its own trucks, “which is one of our biggest assets and our biggest headaches.” He said most of the long-time truck drivers are out of the business and are not chasing seasonal fluctuations. He opined that in the past when a seasonal deal would start up, truckers would come out of the woodwork and capacity would grow overnight. “The increased capacity is not there. It truly doesn’t exist to deal with spikes in volume.”

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