Opinion: Ag and Food Trucking and the U.S. Economy

This Opinion piece appears in the April 16 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

By Fletcher R. Hall, Executive Director

Agricultural and Food Truck Transport Summit

The fact that American Trucking Associations’ Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference, the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute and North Dakota State University will sponsor the first national summit on “Agricultural and Food Truck Transport for the Future,” April 25-26 at the Holiday Inn at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., highlights the importance the trucking industry plays in the everyday functioning of these two vital segments of the U.S. economy.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Michael Johanns will give the opening keynote address. His keynote address indicates the importance of the summit to the agricultural sector and trucking industry and the vital role of commercial agricultural trucking in the 21st century.

The summit is especially timely in view of comments made by President Bush in his January State of the Union Address on renewable fuels, biodiesel and energy independence — which will significantly affect commercial agricultural transportation — and the currently pending 2007 farm bill with its Title IX, Energy Section.

The summit will provide a venue for the trucking, agricultural and food industries and other stakeholders to discuss critical issues as well as ways to strengthen commercial trucking to ensure the safety and success of the food and agricultural transport industry in the future. Developing legislative and policy initiatives in agriculture and food trucking for possible inclusion in the 2007 Farm Bill and other appropriate federal legislation will be key focal points of the summit.

The summit will examine the effect of farm and energy policy changes on domestic agricultural production and processing; the ability of trucking to meet increasing demands from agricultural shippers and the food industry; and the influence of energy costs and issues of the environment on the trucking industry. Critical topics also will include driver recruitment, training and retention; the effect of security requirements in transporting agricultural and food products; and the importance of agricultural hours-of-service exemptions to commercial agricultural transportation.

In any discussion of critical issues concerning agricultural transportation, it is essential to consider the vital role the trucking industry plays in the transportation of all agricultural and food commodities in the United States today.

The trucking industry and the United States agricultural sector have a significant effect on the total U.S. economy. The U.S. agriculture sector accounts for about 13% of the country’s gross domestic product and 18% of domestic employment, according to a Government Accounting Office report in 2003.

According to U.S. government estimates, the transportation of agricultural commodities and products accounts for a significant portion of all U.S. freight traffic. Defining agricultural movement to include movements of farm inputs, raw agricultural commodities and processed agricultural commodities, agriculture is a primary user of transportation services in the United States at more than 23% of total tonnage and more than 31% of the total ton-miles moved annually.

The trucking industry is essential to agriculture, as trucks are now the primary transport mode for the movement of all major agricultural commodities.

Trucks are the leading transport mode for the movement of fresh fruits and vegetables in the United States, with a market share of more than 90%.

Trucks are the largest carriers of produce to ocean ports for export.

Ninety-five percent of livestock transportation is handled by truck, and fresh dairy products are handled primarily by trucks over relatively short distances.

n According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest grain transportation modal share analysis released in October 2004, trucks transported 68.4% of all domestic grain movements in the United States during the year 2000. This fact reflects a significant change in modal share from 1978 to 2000, particularly between rail and truck modes. All modes showed an increase in absolute tons moved. However, rail and barge shares decreased, while truck shares increased through 2000, making trucks the dominant mode for grain transport in the United States. The 2004 report includes the latest data available from USDA on grain transport modal shares.

Because of the importance of commercial agricultural transportation to America’s productivity, it is important that the first National Summit for Agricultural and Food Truck Transport for the Future has been scheduled.

Agricultural and food transporters and shippers have much to gain from such a national summit, which has been advocated by the Agricultural and Food Transporters of American Trucking Associations for several years. Take advantage of this opportunity in Washington in April.

The Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference is a unit of American Trucking Associations, Alexandria, Va. Summit information is available at www.agandfoodtrucking.org or by contacting Fletcher Hall at (703) 838-7999.


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