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Farm trucking businesses anticipate labor shortage

Farm trucking businesses anticipate labor shortage

Grain truck

Many ag businesses are reporting they have enough truck drivers currently, but new ones are getting harder to find.

The supply chain issues plaguing the country have highlighted the problems inherent in the trucking industry. But hiring out farmers during the off-season may not be the answer.

There are practical reasons why grain haulers aren’t typically used for other loads. That includes regulations as well as the physical makeup of farm trucks.

“They’re not like box trailers or reefers that haul to grocery stores and other places,” said Donna Stearns, owner of Hoploads, a company that matches drivers with loads. “Also, farmers who have trucks with hopper bodies are usually only insured for a 50- or 100-mile radius.”

Stearns said it is not practical for truckers to lease out their rigs or themselves as drivers.

“It’s a huge hassle to change everything over,” she said. “Farmers get a break on insurance, but can legally only go 50 to 100 miles from the farm. A lot of farmers aren’t going to lease their trucks out because they don’t have rigs with sleepers; they’re for short runs. You might find a few of them trying to do that, but then they have to get licenses for every state. That’s not going to happen. There’s too much to do.”

Many short-haul trucking companies change loads and trailers according to seasonal needs. That’s the case with Eagle Valley Trucking in Illinois.

“This is our propane season,” said Steve Johnson. “The ag trucking that we do is anhydrous ammonia in the spring and fall. In the winter we convert those trailers over to haul propane.”

It seems that more farmers today have their own trucks than in the past, though they seldom lease them out to other trucking companies.

“We used to do a lot of grain hauling,” said Den DeMeyer of Grayslake Feed Sales in northern Illinois. “Now we pretty much haul commodities such as feed ingredients. We don’t do much for farmers anymore.”

One reason is price.

“We don’t haul for farmers because we can’t charge them enough,” DeMeyer said. “Many of them own their own trucks and can do it cheaper.”

Stearns said rather than a major trucking shortage, he places the blame for the supply chain problem at the feet of federal regulations and even more restrictive ones in California.

“There’s not the big shortage that everybody thinks. It’s because of the regulations on drivers,” she said. “There isn’t really a driver shortage. It’s because of California, with container shortages. And truckers get to the store and can’t get unloaded. They sit and wait. The way the regulations are, they can’t use that as (rest) time.”

Federal regulations limit truckers to 14 hours driving time — less if they have driven the previous day.

While not every company is experiencing trucker shortages, most agree that they do everything they can to keep the ones they have.

“Right now I don’t any shortages,” said Don Kutinello of A.G. Transportation Systems, based in Lombard, Ill. “I have somebody in all my trucks. But they are getting harder and harder to find.”

DeMeyer has the same thoughts.

“We’re doing all right,” he said. “But it’s definitely hard to replace drivers if you lose them. That is an issue. I don’t think it’s a matter of pay. I think grass is greener elsewhere. People don’t want to drive a truck anymore.”

Johnson of Eagle Valley does have a slight issue with staffing.

“We have two or three open trucks that we could fill,” he said. “We had a bit of a shortage this summer — one guy who resigned and we hired someone in his place. We’re keeping up right now, but when spring rolls around we’ll probably be looking for more drivers.”

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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