COLUMN: Trucking companies grapple with a brewing storm | Rachel Gabel | Opinion

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It’s peak fall racing, the time of year when ranchers sell their calves and bull haulers are busy transporting calves to sales barns, feedlots and ranches. . As corn fields are harvested, herders move purebred cows to corn stalks for winter forage and bring cows home to prepare for cold temperatures and winter feed . Trucks carrying sugar beets, corn silage, and maize are also trucked from the field to the co-op, feed yard, or farm bins. It’s a busy time of year for the families that feed us.

Diesel fuel is at its highest, with an estimated cost of 0.43/mile. There’s no better way to ruin a morning than starting it in a big truck at the diesel pump and knowing you’ll be doing the same the next morning. Trucks deliver almost anything consumers want or need, from more fuel to chicken nuggets to iPhones and anything you ordered late at night on Amazon. With trucking companies paying 35% more year-over-year for fuel, new laws making commercial driver’s licenses both harder and more expensive to obtain, and a labor shortage. work that doesn’t seem to be fading, trucking companies are in trouble. Several northeastern Colorado trucking companies I know have closed, unable to find drivers or unwilling to charge the prices they would have had to pay to stay in the black. Trucking companies still in business are busy and too spread out, sending exceptionally expensive bills to customers they’ve worked with for decades, who they know pay more for every input they use and still receive the same amount for their products. What could go wrong, right?

With all of these factors in play, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has failed to extend an exemption to livestock carriers for hours of service. The exemption was extended 10 times during the height of COVID to ensure cattle could get to processors, but was allowed to expire Oct. 15. It’s the perfect storm for a big wreck.

The Hours of Service (HOS) rule limits truckers to 11 hours of driving time and 14 consecutive hours of on-duty time in any 24-hour period and requires prescribed rest periods. The exemption was particularly important during times when the supply chain was struggling to ensure processing surpluses were relieved on the producer side. It was also logical and reasonable because transporting pigs or cattle is very different from transporting boxes of toilet paper.

This was not an invitation to compel the cattle transporters past the point of exhaustion, but allowed them to travel the last 150 kilometers to their destination to deliver a load of cattle rather than having to park.

During COVID, processors were slowing line speeds due to worker absences and suffered forced shutdowns and even employee deaths. Once back on track, factories operated at full capacity – including Saturdays – to reduce the processing glut. The problem, however, was evident when grocery shoppers saw empty crates of meat. In many cases, trucking shortages were blamed, along with a shortage of grocery store workers and panic buying. The HOS exemption has helped ease this situation for commercial carriers transporting livestock and essential supplies, including medical supplies.

To add insult to injury, water levels on the Mississippi River are so low that the river is almost unnavigable for barges. While it may seem like a long way from a cornfield in Weld County, more than half of corn, soybeans and wheat exports are shipped from Gulf Coast terminals, most of which arrive by barge. Other waterways that feed into the Mississippi are also at capacity, forcing barges to line up and wait. While the barges wait, grain prices have fallen and farmers have been forced to store grain or rely on trains or trucks to transport it, a more expensive option and already at full capacity.

Of all the phrases I’ve typed repeatedly in 2020, “Black Swan event” is the one that still gives me heartburn and cringes. The impending node in the supply chain cannot be attributed to a single event, but the factors at play here are a storm that is sure to cause severe and far-reaching damage that will hurt producers and consumers alike.

Rachel Gabel writes on agriculture and rural issues. She is the associate editor of The Fence Post Magazine, the region’s leading agricultural publication. Gabel is a daughter of the state’s oil and gas industry and a member of one of 12,000 cattle ranching families in the state.

Rachel Gabel writes on agriculture and rural issues. She is the associate editor of The Fence Post Magazine, the region’s leading agricultural publication. Gabel is a daughter of the state’s oil and gas industry and a member of one of 12,000 cattle ranching families in the state.

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