IANA/NITL 2005 - Transportation tops concerns confronting produce industry

By: | at 07:00 PM | Channel(s): Intermodal News  International Trade  

By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOTTransportation is the No. 1 issue facing the fresh produce industry, an issue that must be tackled with a cooperative spirit, according to roundtable participants at the Fresh Summit, the Produce Marketing Association’s International Convention and Exposition held from Nov. 4-8 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.
“We have to work together for the common good of the industry and not be so myopic about just what is good for ‘my’ business,” said Leonard Batti, vice president of production and processing for Salinas, CA-based NewStar Fresh Foods LLC. The statement was made at the conclusion of a Nov. 5 session titled, “A Town Hall on Transportation: Identifying Opportunities.”
The roundtable session began with Terry Humfeld, vice president of the Newark, DE-based Produce Marketing Association (PMA), explaining that, over the past few years, in discussions among PMA leadership, “Transportation issues just rose right to the top.”
That was true even before the latest post-hurricane fuel increases, which have made transportation challenges all the more daunting, further adding to a list of concerns such as truck driver shortages, regulatory restrictions and operational inefficiencies.
“I think we’re going to have to look and act differently,” said Bud Floyd, vice president of Eden Prairie, MN-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. and co-chairman of a newly formed PMA task force addressing transportation-related issues. “It’s about an attitude adjustment.”
Floyd noted that a century ago C.H. Robinson began as a produce transportation company. Nearly 70% of the firm’s total business involves truck transportation. The non-asset-based firm provides sourcing and logistics solutions for such brands as Welch’s, Mott’s, Tropicana, Newman’s Own Organics and its own brand, Fresh1.
While explaining how important he believes it is for firms to concentrate on what they do best, Floyd commented, with a smile, “Every time we’ve owned hard assets, we managed to screw it up, so we don’t do it anymore.”
Among the things C.H. Robinson apparently has been doing well, while the industry as a whole has had difficulties in that regard, is retaining a sufficient contingent of qualified truck drivers.
“Our company’s carrier base isn’t having a problem,” Floyd said, adding that a key factor appears to be proper treatment of drivers.
Also important is a focus on making sure drivers are hauling full loads in both directions as often as possible, Floyd said. He noted that industry figures show truck drivers returning full on backhauls only 25%, or at best, 35% of the time.
“We’re all interested in ‘A-to-B,’” Floyd said of produce firms and those they hire to handle their transportation needs. Then, referring to truck drivers, he added, “They’re interested in ‘A-to-B’ and ‘B-to-A.’”
Floyd said driver salaries industrywide have gone up an average of between five and seven percent over the past year, but that has not had an appreciable impact on driver retention. He said that in the past year, about five percent of drivers have left the business because of government regulations, including the newly instituted latest hours-of-service regulations that further reduce the amount of time per day that drivers are permitted behind the wheel.
“As we look at the future, one of our driving factors is carrier management,” Floyd said. He cited C.H. Robinson initiatives, including a “quick pay” system that enables drivers participating in a preferred carrier program to pay themselves when they drop a load.
NewStar Fresh Foods’ Batti, whose firm is a leader in such product lines as iceless green onions, spinach and asparagus, said it is imperative that drivers no longer be dealt with as a burden but rather be treated the same as a valued customer.
“As an industry, we need to come together and look at what’s becoming a crisis in terms of having enough drivers,” Batti said. “This situation is only going to get worse.”
Batti said his firm aims to coordinate its multip

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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including [em]The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.[/em] A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.