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Seasonal Freight Trends: How to Set Rates During Harvest Season


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Reefer truck owner-operators can maximize profits during harvest season thanks to high demand and seasonal freight trends. The increased demand for temperature-controlled transport of produce can lead to steady work and higher earnings.

How much money can you make transporting produce? It depends on several factors, including freight rates, operational costs, and your negotiation skills. We explain how to set the best freight rates based on research, trends, and data.

What to know about freight rates during harvest season

Several factors continue to freight rate increases during harvest season. Understanding the implications of each can help you capitalize on securing loads and maximizing profitability.

High Demand: During harvest season, a surge in crops across regions creates competition as brokers and shippers compete for carriers with the equipment and ability to transport loads. While fresh produce requires temperature-controlled transport (making reefers essential), these trucks also haul other goods. This means the produce industry competes with other sectors for this valuable transportation resource.

Freight Weight and Load Density: A pallet of delicate but bulky produce like lettuce that can’t easily be stacked may increase freight rates, due to the inefficient use of space. A densely packed pallet of potatoes — while heavier than lettuce — may cost less to transport because it’s compact and stacks easily.

Fuel Costs: Refrigeration adds to fuel consumption and increases fuel costs. This can significantly impact freight rates.

Limited Availability: Major carriers are well prepared for harvest season, deploying trucks to areas during peak harvest times. Even so, the demand for reefers often exceeds availability, creating opportunities for owner-operators to find spot market loads and negotiate rates.

Which freight rates are most negotiable?

There are three different types of freight rates, and it’s useful to know which ones are the most negotiable.

  • Contract freight rates are negotiated between shippers and carriers, then fixed foran agreement period — usually 6 to 12 months.Once these agreements are formalized, the rate isn’t negotiable.
  • Relationship freight rates are negotiable, but negotiations focus more on maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between brokers and carriers. Either party may be willing to “bend” a little on their preferred rate to preserve a positive relationship.
  • Spot market freight rates are variable depending on supply and demand, specific markets, and carrier availability. These are the most negotiable rates and may involve some back-and-forth before an agreement is reached.

How do you negotiate rates during harvest season?

During harvest season, the following tips can help you negotiate good rates.

Keep up with seasonal freight trends

Understanding how to track seasonal freight trends can help you negotiate, because you can use data as a benchmark for determining a fair rate.

Platforms like Truckstop release weekly reports summarizing load board activity from thousands of carriers. These reports distill millions of data points into easy-to-digest rate trends, giving owner-operators a great foundation for negotiating the best rates.

Determine how your fuel costs affect your profits

Fuel is one of your largest expenses, so it’s important to set rates that account for that cost. Fuel surcharges usually factor in base fuel price, current fuel price, and base fuel mileage, but reefer drivers need to consider other factors that increase their fuel costs.

Maintaining optimal cooling temperatures for the goods you carry will use more fuel, and the weight of the load can also increase fuel costs.

Sharpen Your Negotiation Skills

Negotiating rates can be intimidating, but it’s easier if you’re prepared. Use these tips to help refine your negotiation skills.

  • Research: Before discussing rates, consult the market trends and look for factors that could increase your costs. Knowing your exact operating costs, including fuel costs which can vary significantly by location, is key. Be sure to factor in current spot rates for your desired lanes and incorporate any accessorial charges.
  • Be confident: Explain that you are asking for a rate based on real-time seasonal freight trends and your projected costs. Work to find a reasonable compromise rate if necessary. If the other party won’t budge on the rate, it’s OK to respectfully walk away from the deal.
  • Learn and refine: Like any skill, negotiation improves with practice. Think of every negotiation as a learning experience, then apply what you’ve learned to develop your skills.

Find your loads now

With Truckstop, you can easily find the loads you want. A simple search function lets you search by state, so you can focus on states that are in peak harvest season.

Truckstop also helps you connect with a trusted broker network, verifying every broker on the Truckstop load board and including information like credit ratings, pay history, and industry endorsements.

Find out how Truckstop helps owner-operators set the right rates and find the best opportunities. Get started with the Truckstop load board today.

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