With harvest season ramping up in the southeast, the arrival of Hurricane Florence can’t come at a worse time. Peanuts in Georgia, soybeans and grain in North Carolina, and many other crops and agricultural products are being harvested in the region and loaded onto trucks for their next destination – whether that be a processing plant of an end customer.
That means bulk trailers such as end dumps and walking floor trailers are in peak demand in the region. It is those trailers, though, that are also used extensively in hurricane and disaster cleanup projects and will be called upon to help the region recover from Hurricane Florence. That means they won’t be hauling agricultural products and that could create a capacity crunch in the southeast and rate hikes as a result.
Jared Flinn, operating partner of Bulkloads.com, says the ag industry has seen a lot of drivers re-enter the market as harvest season around the country has ramped up. This is common, he explains, as ag hauling generally leads to daily home time.
“Once these guys figure out harvest has started, they will drop everything to go haul grain because it’s local,” he says.
Many of these guys also operate end dumps and walking floor trailers, though, and the opportunity to move into recovery operations following a disaster is very tempting as the rates tend to be higher. How much capacity might leave the ag market in the southeast depends on the needs following the storm, Flinn notes.
“When the Houston flood happened [last year] and two years ago in Florida, we had a lot of trucks” that left the market, he points out.
The other impact to the ag market will be whether Florence’s winds – expected to be up to 130 mph at landfall with tropical storm force winds extending out some 170 miles from the center – and heavy rainfall damages crops still in the ground. Of particular concern is the expected days of rainfall as the system stalls over the southeast, dumping up to 40 inches of rain over just a few days in some regions, according to FEMA officials.
“It all depends on how this unfolds,” Flinn says. “There are certain crops like soybeans that have a [short] window to harvest. Corn is a longer harvest season. Obviously, if it floods [the fields], it could ruin the crop, but if its standing water, the farmers can wait” longer to harvest some crops. This may delay the harvest and condense the season which could also bump up rates and contribute to tighter capacity.
Regardless of the impacts, ag rates in the market will head up following the storm, the real question will be how many trucks are available to move ag products, and will there be any products left to move?