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Produce Logistics: How to Prepare for Hauling Fresh Goods

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Spring signals the arrival of harvest season, a period of intense activity in produce logistics. With demand for fresh produce skyrocketing, freight rates climb, and capacity tightens. 

Owner-operators with reefer trucks can significantly boost earnings by being ready for produce season. We’ll explore how harvest cycles impact produce logistics and provide essential preparation tips. We’ll also cover best practices for managing rates, payments, and business relationships during harvest time.

How does produce season impact the supply chain?

The produce season can affect the entire supply chain as carriers chase the most lucrative opportunities, impacting availability and rates beyond the produce sector.

Well before harvest time, produce shippers arrange for refrigerated trucks to move goods. Each region has different produce seasons—for example, Texas has a high volume between March and April, and Florida’s harvest season peaks between April and June. Carriers allocate large portions of their reefer fleet to deal with the demand in harvest regions, taking advantage of the elevated rates.

Because of this temporary shift in carrier focus, shippers of other perishable goods may struggle with delays based on limited availability of refrigerated trucks. They rely on the spot market to find carriers that can facilitate produce logisitics, paying a premium for essential shipments. 

To capitalize on the high demand of produce season, owner-operators need a reefer truck that’s ready to roll. 

Preparing a reefer truck for produce season

In addition to clearing your schedule, follow these tips for produce season readiness: 

Schedule maintenance

Ensure your truck is in the best condition for hauling freight across long distances. Schedule a comprehensive checkup that includes an inspection of the refrigeration unit, as the last thing you want is food spoiling because of a cooling system breakdown. 

Check all fluid levels and make sure your engine and electrical systems are operating properly. Inspect insulation and seals, too—they’re essential for preventing temperature variations that could damage your cargo. 

Allow time for ongoing maintenance and cleaning

Maintenance isn’t a one-time event. Once produce season begins, regular inspections of your rig should be part of your daily routine. Regular cleaning is also important, as it helps prevent cross-contamination among different types of refrigerated freight, such as meats, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. 

Keep your fuel tank at least half full. In warm weather, you’ll burn more fuel than usual to maintain optimal cooling temperatures. Plus, you may be traveling long rural routes that don’t have a lot of fuel stations.

Add breakdown coverage to your insurance

Even if you’ve done your best with maintenance and kept your reefer in good working order, unexpected breakdowns can still happen. Add reefer breakdown coverage to your insurance to protect yourself and your business in the event of refrigeration failure, a flat tire, or any other problem that takes your truck out of commission.

Finding a reefer truck or trailer for produce season

If you don’t have a reefer truck, you may still be able to cash in on produce season by partnering with a logistics company or leasing a truck or trailer independently.

Partner with a logistics company

Some logistics companies offer seasonal positions for produce hauling. They may even provide the reefer trailer, letting you enter the market without upfront costs. This arrangement is a great way to break into the produce-hauling market without an initial investment — large logistics companies may even cover your layover pay, fuel surcharges, and liability coverage. 

Rent a reefer truck for the season

You may want to consider renting a reefer truck or trailer. Most rental companies offer various pickup locations, making it easy to pick up what you need wherever you are. 

Owner-operators can use a variety of payment options for short-term rentals. If you need a long-term rental, you may be able to finance it. 

Best practices for produce season readiness

If you have a truck, or a plan for getting one, you’re nearly ready for produce season. Follow these additional best practices for long-term success:

Maintain relationships  

It’s important to maintain your relationships with shippers and brokers throughout the year. Engage with them throughout the year and build a strong relationship that makes them think of you first when they need help moving produce.

Reconnect with other companies you worked with from previous seasons to ask about their needs and let them know you’re available to help.

Research seasonal freight trends

Understanding seasonal freight trends and produce logisitcs can help you focus your efforts. For example, you may be able to “follow the money” by working in states or regions where freight rates are trending upward.

Consider freight factoring

Freight factoring helps you better manage cash flow challenges in the produce season. For a low flat fee, once you’ve booked and moved your freight, you can get paid on your invoice within 24 hours, instead of waiting up to 30 days.

This option is beneficial during peak seasons when expenses like fuel, tolls, and maintenance increase.

Be prepared for any season

During produce season — and any time of year — you can maximize earnings by mapping the best routes for your deliveries, finding the fuel stops with the best prices, and setting your rates based on real-time trends. With the right tools, you don’t have to figure that out on your own. Truckstop’s load board gives you instant access to the information you need to work more efficiently and reduce the costs of doing business. 

Book a demo now to find out how Truckstop can make any season more profitable.

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