Everywhere I go and talk with loggers there is a one common problem that is discussed during the conversation. TRUCKING!!!!
We are beginning to realize that a perfect storm is brewing off of the coast and is headed our way to collide with our businesses. Federal CSA standards, increasing cost to comply with new safety standards, unwillingness of contract trucking companies to go to the woods, Insurance Underwriters unwilling to write policies for loggers. Just yesterday I learned that The American Trucking Association is forecasting a 50,000 driver shortage by the end of the year and The American Transportation Research Institute is forecasting a 250,000 driver shortage in 10 years. These stats are for all drivers. Imagine trying to compete for drivers in these kinds of shortages and then ask them to go to the woods. We have not even thought about hours of service compliance. On and on I could go about the issues that we face but I’m only limited to a few words here.
Trucking has gotten to be a big enough issue where insurance underwriters, loggers, and industry companies have started a task force to try to head off the super storm that is headed our way. Soon, Jimmie Locklear with Forestry Mutual Insurance will write an “As We See It” column to discuss what the TEAM concept is and why we need this group.
The ALC has been working through our Transportation Committee to establish good federal policy on trucking for years. Whether it is federal truck weight reform on federal highways or combating CSA standards and the pool of trucking companies affiliated with other industries that we as loggers are compared to. We have even worked on the new EPA regulations on emissions coming out of our trucks.
All of this being said, what can we do as loggers on the ground now to combat what is going on now? These are some of the ideas that my family’s logging business has discovered in the last 3-5 years.
We needed to increase our trucking capacity a few years ago and did not want to invest in the trucks or worry about drivers. We went to the larger bulk hauling companies and asked them for rates and availability. We were shocked to see how expensive their rates were. Once we got over the sticker shock we contracted with a company to do the trucking for a whole crew. We discovered that trucking companies and their employees do not work like we do in the logging business. We went through two trucking companies because the drivers were missing about 5-10 loads a week because of dependability issues. Keep in mind that these were not fly-by-night operators.
Through this process and frustration we had a bright idea. IF WE PAY OURSELVES THE HIGHER RATES THAT TRUCKING COMPANIES CHARGE WE CAN MAKE MONEY IN THE TRUCKING BUSIENESS!!! Imagine that. You mean that we do not have to subsidize our trucking with our logging rates??? We started doing this and our profitability increased and we stopped missing as many loads. Evaluate what you are getting paid or what you are paying yourself. I know some of us are not in market places where an increase in trucking rates is possible. Start letting the powers to be know what we are dealing with. Remember the STORM IS COMING!!!
Through this process we had to increase our mechanics in the shop to keep our fleet in better shape. I’m not talking about the major issues but the little things. Our CSA scores were going up not because of
serious infractions but because of the little things: marker lights, straps, tags that could not be read, windshield washer fluid tank not being filled, air buzzers not being loud enough, etc.. Up until recently we enjoyed grace on the little things. NOT ANY MORE!!!! The little things cost.
These are a couple of things that we discovered. The most important things that we are learning through all of this are that loggers cannot afford to just be able to stay in the woods and log. That would be nice. We are going to have to face the fact that there is a trucking storm coming and for some of us it is already here. The American Loggers Council is working as hard as we can on the federal issues. TEAM is working on insurance and safety. We as loggers are going to have to be proactive, think outside the box, and do all we can to keep things going. We have a strong history of doing amazing things and being amazing businessmen. Let us take on this storm as we always have and solve this problem too.
Log and Truck on!!!
Richard Schwab is the Procurement Manager for M.A. Rigoni, Inc., a full service timber harvesting and forest management company located in Perry, Florida.
The American Loggers Council is a non-profit 501(c) (6) corporation representing professional timber harvesters in 30 states across the US. For more information, visit their web site at www.amloggers.com or contact their office at 409-625-0206.