Trucks still best for hauling agriculture freight: USDA

WASHINGTON — At least one government agency likes trucking as a form of transporting goods.

While the DOT is busy promoting the idea of diverting freight from the highway to rail and marine modes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still thinks that the best way to transport time-sensitive agricultural products is by truck.

According to a new study by agency, trucks can provide the efficiency, special handling and refrigerated services needed to get perishable products where they need to go.

"The USDA study provides the first holistic examination of agricultural transportation and highlights the essentiality of trucking to our modern agricultural production system," said Russell Laird, executive director of the American Trucking Associations’ Agricultural & Food Transporters Conference.

The study, which is actually backed by the US DOT, notes that agriculture is the largest user of freight transportation in the U.S., claiming 31 percent of all ton-miles transported in 2007.

"(Trucks) are the most effective method of moving goods short distances and for assembling quantities of products at elevators and warehouses for transloading to other modes of transportation."

The study also points out that trucking is more competitive in nature than ocean and rail, providing an attractive shipping option, even during times of rapidly increasing fuel costs. Ocean shipping and railroad are exempt from antitrust rules, which can decrease competition, reduce service, and raise rates, the study said.

"Recent escalating rail rates and declining service for some shippers has pushed more grain transportation onto trucks in recent years," said the study.

In addition, the rapid consolidation of the railroad industry through mergers has resulted in a decrease in the unrestricted interchange of traffic and routing choices.

"Shippers are concerned with switching limitations, restricted interchange, paper barriers, inconsistent service, high rates, excessive fuel surcharges, bottleneck rates, and the effectiveness of the rate challenge process," the study found.

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