The massive and fragmented U.S. truckload market is dictated by three main cycles: the annual procurement cycle, the seasonal demand cycle, and the market capacity cycle.
We’re diving into the seasonal demand cycle, which is made up of a series of short-term, planned surges in shipping volume that happen at specific times during the year.
One of the prime examples: produce season.
Every spring, the temperature rises and fruits and vegetables are ready for harvest, starting in the southern U.S. and moving north throughout the summer.
This seasonal shipping spike creates supply dislocations throughout the country, and spot rates in and out of regions become volatile.
How Produce Season Impacts the Truckload Market (in 6 Steps)
- Farmers harvest crops out of the ground or off of trees and need to get them to market ASAP.
- Produce shippers with these extremely time-sensitive produce shipments are prepared to pay a market premium to secure dry van and reefer capacity.
- Regional carriers that work with non-produce shippers throughout most of the year will transition some or all of their fleet to take advantage of produce shipments, creating a short-term capacity need for shippers in high-produce shipping regions (like southern Florida), whether or not they ship produce.
- As shipper demand shoots up, spot market rates shift to entice more supply to enter the regional market to handle the freight. Spot rates inbound to produce regions begin to drop, as carriers from other regions want to strategically position their drivers, knowing they will get a profitable outbound load.
- The ripple effect across the nation's spot market, created as capacity leaves other areas of the U.S. and floods into Florida, Georgia,Texas, etc. can be slight or severe, depending on the state of the Market Capacity Cycle.
- Once produce shipping slows down out of a region, inbound spot rates will shoot up and outbound spot rates will decline.
Q1-Q2 Produce Overview
Coming off the busy shipping months during the holiday season, consumer spending typically subsides in the early months of Q1.
In turn, freight availability typically dips across the country, and starts to pick up again in March, right when produce starts coming out of the ground.
Produce season kicks off in southern Florida and Texas.
The buildup to Memorial Day, as retailers stock their shelves, jumpstarts food and beverage summer shipping as well.
With produce from Mexico and Latin America hitting border cities like McAllen, Laredo, and Miami, combined with holiday demand for food and beverages, these regions become the focal points for seasonal demand shipping.
In the Texas and southeast regions, outbound spot rates can be drastically impacted by the surge in demand from produce.
Coyote Aggregated State Truckload Volume: Q1 vs. Q2 (2018)
As temperatures rise, so does the focal point(s) for produce shipping. As we get into Q2, northern Florida, Georgia, northern Texas, New Mexico and southern California heat up, then the Carolinas and Northern California, and finally the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest.
Texas Region: March - April
Ramp up to produce season
- Although generally year-round, the traditional produce season that most think of begins in early March and transactional capacity will be challenged with covering produce shipments, both dry and refrigerated, coming from Mexico.
- Popular border cities, such as McAllen and Laredo, will be hit hardest by the influx of volume, presenting new opportunities for carriers looking to move more freight.
- Trucks in proximity will be sent to produce shippers, explaining the lack of capacity within 200-300 miles of those areas.
- With the season running until June, outbound Texas shipments will be highly sought after by carriers.
Florida Region: April - June
More of the same story
- Like Texas, the Southeast proves to be a produce hotbed beginning in mid-April through the 4th of July.
- Known traditionally as more of a “consumption” region, the radical increase in outbound volume due to produce serves as a coverage pain point for shippers.
- Non-produce freight coming out of FL, GA, MS, AL and the Carolinas should be planned with respect to competing produce coming out of the same areas.
- Notable shipping points will be Miami, with produce expected to move north to Jacksonville by through mid-summer.
What Does This All Mean?
Texas and Florida are notable hotbed states for produce. Coverage around produce cities such as McAllen, Laredo, Miami, and Jacksonville can pose a challenge for shippers during a few weeks in Q1 and Q2.
Prioritization of must-move freight versus shipments with flexibility will be paramount for success during the produce season spike.
Attractive pick-up and delivery times will also be a factor as carriers will look for quick turnarounds to capture more volume during the spike.
Refrigerated equipment will be in high demand as many produce shippers require temperature control.
The best thing you can do to mitigate produce season disruption is create a plan well in advance of Memorial Day. Reach out to your strategic providers and make sure your forecasted needs match up with what they can provide.
During peak produce shipping, make sure to measure your carriers' performance and hold them accountable.
Need instant access to capacity during produce season? Get on-demand dry van and refrigerated quotes with CoyoteGO.