Market Insights: Spring Has Sprung, and So Has Produce Season
Spring is in full swing, and with it comes shifts in the transportation industry. From the ramping up of produce season to declining dry van contract rates, April has brought notable changes to the market. We'll take a closer look at the latest trends, including increases in imports and diesel prices. Read on for a comprehensive analysis of the latest developments!
- Produce season is ramping up
- Reefer and dry van contract rates are showing significant declines
- Imports are up 5% month-over-month
- Diesel prices are on the rise again
A Look at Rates
Dry van load volumes have increased by about 10% and are now about equal to the levels they were in 2019, pre-pandemic. Equipment posts on DAT are up 8% as capacity continues to loosen, and load posts are almost 50% lower than they were this time last year on DAT. Georgia remains one of the strongest markets in terms of load density as the Southeast is in the middle of its produce season. That said, there is still plenty of available capacity, and rates have dropped around $0.04/mile on average.
California has now seen three straight weeks of capacity tightening as its produce season starts, a modest average linehaul increase of around $0.02/mile. As produce shifts away from Mexico, we can expect volumes and rates to drop in border towns such as McAllen and Yuma. Dry van linehaul rates are still around $0.09/mile higher than in 2019, before the pandemic, but rates have been dropping steadily since the beginning of 2023. We have still not seen the bottom, with rates dropping another $0.03/mile over the last week.
Unlike last month when the dry van forecast predicted continued decreases, which we saw, we can now expect to see the bottom of the market in the next two or three weeks. The forecast is only predicting modest gains but gains, nonetheless.
Reefer load posts on DAT are down over 50% compared to this time last year. Unlike dry van posts, this is almost 15% lower than pre-pandemic levels. Reefer equipment posts remain near record-breaking levels as capacity remains very loose. Like the dry van sector, the Southeast has recently seen the largest volume growth due to produce volumes. Miami and Lakeland, Florida were the top two spot freight markets in the US over the last two weeks in terms of volume. We expect the Florida market to remain strong through Mother's Day, followed by a sharp and quick falloff.
California is also seeing volume growth as its produce season starts. We saw a $0.06/mile increase out of central California due to a 38% surge of loads available over the past week. Reefer linehaul rates have dropped $0.05/mile in the last week and have steadily decreased since the beginning of 2023. Rates are now only $0.04/mile higher than they were this time in 2019.
Like DAT's forecast for dry van rates, we expect to see reefer rates bottom out in the next few weeks. The forecast does predict slightly more substantial gains compared to dry van rates, primarily due to produce season picking up. We do still expect rates to increase less than they have historically at this time of year because we expect a weak produce season. A good example is the USDA's prediction that around 75% of strawberry crops in California were destroyed in the flooding.
Flatbed volumes dropped slightly last week by about 3% after nearly 11 straight weeks of gains. Volumes are around 50% of what we typically see at this time of year. However, equipment postings have dropped slightly as the flatbed market has gained traction over the last two months.
The Southeast and Texas are by far the tightest markets in the US right now. That said, volumes are dropping as much as 25% in key markets such as Houston, and we are seeing rates drop up to $0.70/mile compared to this time last year. Flatbed rates have leveled off over the last month after nearly two months of increases. Rates are about $0.16/mile higher than in 2019, before the pandemic.
Similar to dry van and reefer, the flatbed sector is predicted to see very modest rate increases. This is mainly due to the industrial manufacturing and homebuilding sectors remaining steady and weaker than in the last few years.
US import prices decreased by around 1% over the last month – the largest one-month decrease since November 2022, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. US import volumes were down around 3% in February, but we saw a gain of about 5% in March. Forecasts see continued increases in imports over the next few months.
Rail volumes remain weak, with a decrease of around 4% over the last month and 19.4% year-over-year, according to the Association of American Railroads. Outlook for rail volumes remains pessimistic as truckload rates stay low and capacity is readily available.
Diesel and gasoline prices are back on the rise due to OPEC cutting 1.6 million barrels per day. The good news is most oil companies are predicting diesel prices to drop slightly, at least in the short term. Currently, diesel is around $0.200/gallon higher than last month and $0.985/gallon higher than this time last year.
Stay Ahead of the Game
The transportation industry is constantly evolving, and staying informed about the latest trends and updates is crucial for businesses to remain competitive. At Armstrong, we keep our customers updated with the latest news to help them make informed decisions about their shipping needs.
Visit our website to learn more about our services and how we can help your business navigate the ever-changing transportation landscape. Our team of experts is always ready to assist!
About Brad Loeb
An expert in market trends, cost analysis, and rate/route selection, Brad serves as Armstrong’s Director of Pricing and Analytics. He joined Armstrong in 2019, bringing nine years of experience in supply chain and operations management, with industry knowledge spanning warehousing, pricing, freight, LTL, and 3PL.