Now that the federal government has stepped in on the West Coast port slowdown transporting agriculture should get better, but it may not be enough.
Earlier in the year, reports indicated that the port slowdown along the West Coast was the cause of onions normally slated for export being shifted to domestic markets, thus creating an additional burden on already stressed U.S. truck and rail systems.
Sources are now saying 2015-16 might not change due to the ongoing shortage of trucks and a rail system that is not adequate for supporting produce shipments.
Shippers who use rail through Union Pacific ship at their own risk. Union Pacific offers no delivery commitments and in some cases rail cars take up to 30 days to transport onions from the West Coast to the East Coast. That delayed delivery can cause price adjustment requests and kicked loads.
And while Union Pacific has tried to remedy the problem, not much has worked.
Add to the equation that UP will soon be taking its dated 50-ft. cars out of commission and replacing them with 64-ft. cars that some shippers can’t fill. Moreover, some markets can’t be reached by the cars because of the increased size.
There is also some concern that if UP sees signs that onion shippers might decrease their rail shipments in 64-ft. cars, the rail service may decide to scrap the replacement altogether, hurting the larger shippers.
Truck transportation continues to pose a problem as well. Scott Masingill, sales agent for Boise-based Prime Trucking, said individuals entering the workforce no longer find driving truck to be a career choice, and Prime and other national trucking companies are offering incentive programs to put more drivers on the road. Still, statistics show there are not enough truckers to meet demand.
So as onions move from the West to the Midwest and East Coast over the next several months, it will be interesting to see how they make it to market and what solutions shippers can find to supply their customers.