California's Weather Impacts Truckload Capacity

California supplies nearly 50% of the nation’s produce. The central valley of California has been called “the nation’s bread basket,” as a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, nuts, rice and dairy products are shipped to all corners of North America.

Mark Montague’s recent blog post Top Ten Freight Markets for Contract and Spot Freight, revealed that the key market areas of Ontario and Fresno, California made the list of 2016 Top 10 Reefer Markets for both contract and spot market freight. The demand for reefers impacts van capacity too, as reefers often haul van freight in the slow season until they’re pulled away by the increased demand—and prices—of refrigerated freight.

Even with the 2016 drought, Ontario and Fresno ranked in the top 10 reefer markets in 2016 for both spot and contract freight (Source: DAT RateView).

Shown are the key market areas (KMAs) in California. To learn more about key market areas, click here.

If you haven’t been following California’s weather lately, it has been filled with good news and bad news.

Five-year drought ends

After 5 years of drought, the rains finally came this winter. Over the past few months, the California drought map (below) has morphed from the dark reds of “extreme drought” to the yellows of “abnormally dry” to white, which indicates no drought.

Flooding begins

Californians had little time to celebrate the end of the drought, as heavy rains in January and February brought floods to many parts of the state. Record rainfalls replenished state reservoirs, but many were so full that water had to be released downstream rather than stored for future use. The much-publicized Oroville Dam and its faulty spillway lead to the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people in February. Flooding also closed several highways throughout the state.

Water causes delays

The most recent issue of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin summarized California this way:

“Growers continued to wait for fields to dry out sufficiently to resume planting winter grain and field crops. Already planted grains and field crops continued to mature, reaping the benefit from all the recent rain, as well as a few sunny days. The standing water in vineyards and orchards continued to cause concern for the health of the trees and vines. In Imperial County, spinach, broccoli, and some lettuce were being harvested late at night. In Fresno County, some winter vegetable fields had saturated soils and no fieldwork was able to be performed.”

The website recently announced that California citrus shipments could face significant delays because of the rain. “Delays in harvest as well as loading opportunities for citrus haulers are expected with lemons, oranges and specialty citrus, such as mandarins, which are typically more sensitive to the rain than other types of fruit,” the website said.

Heavy rains have also affected the quality of certain crops. In Yuma, Arizona, which is adjacent to the Ontario market, leafy greens have been plagued with mildew problems, which has reduced yields.

The peak produce months for California are yet to come, usually peaking in May and June. It’s still too early to tell how the record rainfall this year will affect the final outcome. If warmer, drier weather prevails in the coming months, it could lead to a banner year. If rain and soggy weather persists, it could lead to smaller yields and harvest disruptions.


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