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Freight and temperature considerations

Refrigerated transportation has many moving parts.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

Some items require extra care when being transported across hundreds of miles on the interstate. Transporting perishable freight is one of the most important considerations everyone in the supply chain area must remember. For example, some freight may sustain damage from varying temperature levels, or from being confined to a semi-trailer for too long. Any freight that is damaged is no longer suitable because of potential lost revenue, which could then cause low supply at various stores and restaurants.

With summer on its last legs and winter quickly approaching, the importance temperature management in freight can't be dismissed.

Rise of refrigerated transport
According to the latest statistics from DAT Solutions, refrigerated freight rates recovered in early September. The load volume also increased 4 percent compared when compared to the previous week. Some of this higher demand may be attributed to a variety of factors, from more fruit and vegetable shipments from South America, to the ongoing California drought.

"Refrigerated freight rates recovered in early September."

In another report from DAT Solutions, Texas was the top market for spot temperature controlled trucking. The previous top state, California, has virtually dominated this sector of the transportation market since 1886. However, the ongoing and severe drought in California has damaged crop fields, and as a result, there have been steady declines in produce volume. The drought is far from over, and in May 2015, a handful of professors from the University of California Davis predicted some of the economic impacts. They estimated the drought will directly cost California $1.8 billion in 2015. DAT Solutions said that total represents about 4 percent of the agricultural market's $45 billion in revenue. As a result, spot market transportation may end up receiving some drastic cuts.

Another big factor in Texas now having more reefer loads than any two states combined is a large increase in shipments from Mexico. According to Southwest Farm Press, the surge of Mexican produce and hardships in California may be a sign for things to come within the trucking industry.

Just last year, imports from Mexico increased by about 15 percent and farm exports have also tripled since 2005, with Southwest Farm Press saying about $7.6 billion was imported across the southern border. Some of the Mexican agricultural industry's growth, and subsequent reliance on refrigerated trucking, can be attributed to the North American Free Trade Agreement. The agreement let goods flow freely between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. According to NPR, this free trade has led to large amounts of food being shipped.

A new highway built to connect Mexico's Pacific coast to the Texas border has also played a role in the rise of Mexican imports. All told, this highway, constructed near Pharr, Texas, has also helped Texas overtake California due to more semi-trailers utilizing the new infrastructure. With a big emphasis on refrigerated trucking, some considerations must be accounted for.

Imports from Mexico have increased.Imports from Mexico have steadily increased over the years.

Using refrigerated shipping
If goods are being shipped from Mexico to Texas, then to other parts of the country, many miles are being traveled. The further the distance, the more likely freight may become damaged. Even slight delays can have severe consequences, particularly if the food is perishable.

As such, the cold chain is being heavily utilized. According to a study from Jean-Paul Rodrigue of the Van Horne Institute, the cold chain can be defined as the movement of sensitive freight along the supply chain. Logistics companies, shippers and carriers ensure refrigerated and temperature-controlled packing methods are involved. The report even said the cold chain is a science, because of the many variables involved.

"Reefer trucks will likely need to be leaned upon to deliver fruits."

Refrigerated considerations
In order to properly transport freight in refrigerated shipping, some shippers are taking steps to ensure proper delivery. First and foremost, reefer trucks will likely need to be leaned upon to deliver fruits, vegetables and other types of perishable foods. Reefers have to be reliable and versatile, with Rodrigue noting a reefer unit can carry around 20 to 25 tons of freight. Most, if not all, reefer units require an electric power source in addition to proper air circulation. However, it should be noted that shipments should ideally be brought to the required or ideal temperature before being loaded into a reefer unit. This is because reefers only maintain the temperature within a prefixed range. Drivers are not able to constantly interrupt their route to change temperature conditions.

Reefers aren't the only cold chain tools being used for refrigerated transportation. If cargo needs to be frozen for an extended period of time, frozen ice may be utilized. On the other hand, liquid nitrogen will keep shipments frozen for an even longer period of time. Whatever the shipment time, there are plenty of options available to keep freight at desired temperatures.

With the rise of Mexican produce, refrigerated shipments from Texas have steadily increased. This trend does not look to slow down anytime soon, but before shipments are made using reefers, every party should be aware of the cold cycle and what it entails.