For those that do not know, I grew up and still live on a small family farm in South Georgia. One of the most important things for a farm is the timely delivery of fertilizers and other materials. Ordering truckloads of bulk fertilizers and chemicals necessary to obtain optimum growth and harvests is a part of daily business.
According to a story in AgWeek, there are issues in the upper Midwest finding drivers for the tender trucks. And even offering $30/hour wages is not generating nibbles at the hook. For one business owner, he says it might be a lack of fish in the pond.
It’s not a simple job working at a co-op
AgWeek’s Mikkel Pates penned an article covering the shortage of qualified drivers in the Three States region where North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota meet. Pates’ article follows the troubles of Farmers Cooperative Elevator Co. Inc., of Rosholt, South Dakota, a century-old grain buyer and farm materials supplier.
This year, the co-op had a significantly harder time procuring the seasonal tender drivers needed to stay on top of local farmers’ demands. Farmers Cooperative Elevator serves customers from multiple counties in the region – Richland County in North Dakota, Roberts and Marshall counties in South Dakota, and Traverse and Big Stone counties in Minnesota
Rosholt is a small town of about 430 residents, with larger cities about a half-hour away. Seasonal jobs are often seen as a second job, primarily as a part-time position. For a seasonal job at an agricultural co-op, especially a CDL position, it’s full time, often with lots of overtime.
Drivers would find themselves tasked to work as long as they could, often pushing the 14-hour FMCSA regulation to its limit. It’s a short period of time that the seasonal driver is needed. In the spring, when seed, fertilizer and chemicals are shipped en masse, the work is usually done in a six- to eight-week period in April and May.
In the fall, work is usually crammed into late August, September and early October before the frost or snow begins. Grain needs to be delivered to the elevator, where it is dried, cleaned and either bagged or loaded onto railcars.
Rural depopulation and difficulties obtaining CDLs are the apparent causes, according to a co-op operator
The previous planting season was hard on Farmers Cooperative’s Brad Tangen, the general manager of the company. Making sure that the co-op had enough drivers was an insurmountable challenge, one that he was only able to achieve by contracting loads to independent trucking companies.
Tangen began to run ads in local media beginning in February, offering $20 per hour. After he received no responses, he began to offer $30 per hour. Even with that 50% increase, he only filled four of the 10 positions.
With planting season approaching, Tangen made the hard call to contact local trucking firms and lease their drivers and trucks. Farmers Co-op was forced to pay $90-$100 per hour, per unit. And after all of this struggling, they were still one driver short of an optimal amount of trucks.
In the AgWeek article, Tangen cites rural depopulation and the new laws regarding CDL training as the primary issues he was facing. Of the four drivers he was able to recruit, they were all “semi-retired” drivers who could climb back into the saddle since they still had their CDLs.
An obstacle is the new CDL “minimal safe driver training requirements,” a thorn in the side of many small CDL employers. With the cost of “training” at around $4,000, small companies cannot make that investment if they cannot ensure they will get it back.
Another issue is having the required certified instructors, who are often contracted to larger trucking companies or trade schools. There is a shortage of those who want to teach the program and finding qualified instructors is like looking for a needle in a haystack.