Freight Debates: Will we have a ‘normal’ produce season?

Transfix Pros Weigh In On What’s in Store for This Year’s Produce Season

With Q2 underway and Spring finally upon us, farmers are gearing up to get their produce shipped across the country in time for the ubiquitous BBQs and family functions. Yet, a number of weather-related factors may be putting a damper on the highly anticipated produce season giving it a slower start than expected. With California being the largest producer of fruits and vegetables, recent historic rainfall and flooding may bring scarcity to grapes, lettuce, tomatoes, and strawberries.

However, sweet potatoes coming out of Arkansas and southwest Michigan’s grapes, cherries, and apples were all projected to have solid seasons – at least, according to the farmers who own the fields. And imports are expected to be on the rise. According to Seth Meyer, chief economist with the USDA, February forecasts indicated that “imports are up 3% from FY 2022, which was a record year. Horticultural products remain the largest import category. It is forecast for $99.9 billion in FY 2023, or nearly half of the total. Fruits, vegetables and tree nuts comprise almost half of the category.” Mexico is slated to be the top contributor to that projected import growth.

While rates, tender rejections, and capacity seem to be leveling out to reflect 2019 numbers, the question remains – will produce season get back to normal this year? We recently polled supply chain fanatics on LinkedIn and an overwhelming 77% believe that despite a rocky start, produce season will level out to normalcy. See what our pros who track this information think below. 

Ayeh Bandeh-Ahmadi, Chief Economist

Normal? The short answer is no. Historic rains and mudslides this past January in California, which are responsible for a wide range of U.S.  produce, not only impacted the state’s farm workers and damaged farm equipment but also flooded asparagus, lettuce, strawberry, tomato, and Brussels sprout fields at scale. And as a result, farmers delayed plantings in some cases and experienced ruined crops in others. While 2023 yields on some crops like avocados and grapes were only affected slightly, the overall impact of those rains on crops is shaping up to be substantially negative.

Also not normal are the peach crop in Georgia, which has been negatively affected by cold weather, and Florida’s citrus season which is forecast to hit its lowest levels since the Great Depression after the impacts of Hurricanes Nicole and Ian last year.

There is, however, a spot of strength in U.S. corn harvests, which the USDA report forecasts will see 10% higher yields, and a spot of normalcy in wheat harvests which are forecast to drop a modest 3% during their May-September growing seasons. Pecan producers in the South are also harvesting and shipping more inventoried stock as pecan prices peak.

All told, I’m expecting a softer produce season this year, which given higher truck capacity in the market will likely translate to even weaker support of trucking rates. But we could see  produce season strengthen on the tail end due to the timing of crops that are least affected by this year’s weather events as well as the shorter, delayed, and more intense planting season that weather events have driven in the West.

Robert Treadwell, Director of Revenue Operations

Looking forward to the anticipated produce season and its impact on trucking, I expect a mild return to normalcy after a weak 2022 season.

Since weather is a primary driver of how much produce can be harvested, it is best to start here. Weather has been fairly favorable in recent months, but temperature and drought variations in different regions impact which type of produce will have the most success. For example, the rice fields in California have seen benefits from the volume of heavy rains after a long-lasting drought (which is still ongoing), but it may have disturbed a critical pollination period for almonds. Looking toward Texas, I have a more optimistic outlook on produce as weather has been very favorable minus some drought conditions and a few weeks of frost scares (it should be a great year for onions!). Over in Florida, citrus fruits are having a tough run as it combats hurricanes, frost, and bugs that have diminished production by nearly 50%.

This give and take between crops can be found in many regions of the United States, and overall it would be fair to expect that the produce season will be stronger than 2022 but not overly robust in any fashion.

Although we expect a higher volume of produce freight in 2023 in comparison to 2022, and there may be some periods of tightness over the upcoming months, I do not expect it to be long-lasting. Based on this information, I expect that any surge in demand will likely be absorbed by the abundant supply of trucks and cause little to no variation to market rates.

Justin Maze, Director of Carrier Management

The 2023 produce season will undoubtedly bring a sense of what some call “traditional seasonality”, especially after a weak 2022 produce season. We are already seeing this in some regions. 

we will likely see a small impact In terms of capacity and the direction of the spot market, even with a mild produce season that most are anticipating.  Overall, there’s a chance that produce markets, especially along the Mexico border and Florida, may see slim increases and periods of tightening capacity, which could cause a week-to-week variation on the spot market, seeing slight increases or continuing stagnant rates. At the same time, the rest of the country continues to experience ease. California will be a region to monitor as recent weather has impacted harvests throughout the country. Overall, with the current conditions of the trucking market, we do not expect to see significant volatility in the trucking market as we anticipate a prolonged period of a soft spot market and a mild produce season when we think about the absence of volatilty.

We should expect a more favorable produce season in Texas than anywhere else. The weather has been favorable for onions; harvest started earlier this year. We have seen this in spot rates and capacity out of Texas through March. Alongside Texas, Mexico supplies 40% of fresh vegetables and fruit in the US. These imports further tighten trucking capacity for markets in Texas and along the Arizona/Mexico and California/Mexico border. For shippers, the overall looseness continuing in the spot market should prevent high volatility. 


DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Transfix, Inc. Or any parent companies or affiliates or the companies with which the participants are affiliated and may have been previously disseminated by them. The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are based upon information considered reliable, but neither Transfix, Inc. Nor its affiliates, nor the companies with which the participants are affiliated warrant its completeness or accuracy and it should not be relied upon as such. All views and opinions are subject to change.