As Produce Season Wraps Up, Here’s What you Need to Know

Maria Callegari Maria Callegari July 31, 2023
As Produce Season Wraps Up, Here’s What you Need to Know

Produce season, which spans from February to July, is a crucial time for grower-shippers as it's when the largest quantity of fruits and vegetables are harvested and shipped to manufacturers, food retailers, and other vendors. This increased demand during produce season causes prices for refrigerated trucks (reefers) to skyrocket and available capacity to diminish.

Throughout the season, grower-shippers face the challenge of moving significant quantities of perishable produce, which typically require reefers, expedited shipping, and careful handling. To maximize profits and deliver high-quality produce to clients, growers must have flexible and reliable transportation.

The produce season is the busiest time of year for many of our clients. It's a time when Edge's superior logistics platform, CAPACITY, can help them find reliable, affordable transportation solutions to meet their needs. And you don't have to take our word for it: For the second consecutive year, CAPACITY has been honored in the "digital freight shipping" category by SupplyTech Breakthrough for its innovative and user-friendly interface.

For Grower-Shippers, Produce Season is High-Stakes

Produce season begins in February with the influx of fresh produce from Mexico and Central America. As temperatures rise, the shipping frenzy heats up as well. By late March, fresh produce begins to ship from the Southeastern states, the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, and Southern California before steadily moving north toward the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest states during the spring and summer.

The spike in shipping fresh fruits and vegetables during the season leads to a capacity crunch, particularly in demand for reefers. With the capacity squeeze comes significant price increases. The spot market can rise by more than  30% monthly during the produce season. Additionally, shipping companies might expect this increased demand and proactively relocate their trucks to the primary growing regions. This can further reduce availability in other areas during the produce season.

The busiest days of the produce season are the “100 days of summer,” which fall between mid-June and Labor Day (September 4 in 2023). This time frame is when the most produce is coming out of fields in the United States and must be transported safely and efficiently to food manufacturers or retailers. It’s also the point when capacity is hardest to find.

For shipper-growers, produce season means the race is on to deliver perishable produce to manufacturers and retailers. Fresh fruits and vegetables typically have a  short window of freshness and require additional handling needs, including refrigeration and expedited shipments. That’s why partnering with an experienced service provider like Edge Logistics is essential to meet your unique shipping needs.

When Does Produce Season Start and End?

Produce season isn’t just one giant peak season; it’s actually a whole bunch of short peak seasons for individual crops and locations. There are two things you need to know about peaks in the produce season:

  1. Different kinds of produce have various peaks.
  2. The same produce (strawberries, for example) can have peak seasons that vary by region. 

The biggest food crops in the United States are corn and soybeans. Depending on climate, corn and soybeans can be harvested anywhere between May and September. Other crop peaks — such as tomatoes in August in New Jersey or peaches in South Carolina in June — can intersect with these demands and create even more pressure on transportation. 

In California, the peak of peaks comes during the 100 days of summer when a tremendous quantity of tomatoes — about 95% of the US’s total tomato crop — are picked and transported to processing plants. Tomatoes are highly perishable and can ripen within three days to two weeks after harvest. They are susceptible to cold and cannot be refrigerated to slow ripening. Once ripe, they last another 3 to 5 days. This means that growers have at most two weeks from harvest to deliver them to processors or retailers before they spoil. A cross-country trucking route can take several days, and once you add in packing, loading and unloading times, and any delays, we can see just how small the window of optimal ripeness is. 

Since climate plays such a crucial role in agriculture, the same fruit or vegetable can have different peak seasons that vary by state or region. For instance, soybeans in Virginia peak between June and August but the same crop in a cooler climate in North Dakota peaks between September and November.

Grower-shippers harvesting multiple crops in one or more regions face more than one “crunch time” for transportation and therefore must have access to flexible, reliable capacity that meets the unique handling needs for each product.

How Can Shippers Prepare for Next Year's Produce Season?

The nice thing about the produce season is that it is seasonal and occurs yearly. With the right planning and reputable partners, you can prepare for the cost and availability demands of the produce season. Meticulous planning can save your business substantial money and increase efficiency.

One of the most important steps grower-shippers can take to prepare for the produce season is to forecast their demand and book freight as far in advance as possible. The cargo squeeze of the produce season typically begins in March and can see freight costs increase by an average of 30%, so mark your calendars to book your freight far in advance of the boom. In particular, make sure to book those regular shipments that happen yearly along high-volume routes during the produce season. Carriers appreciate shippers who can help them accurately plan load requirements and shipping schedules and may choose you as a preferred shipper, since your dependability makes their lives easier.

Finally, familiarize yourself with harvest schedules in the regions where you typically do business—and even those outside your usual routes. Knowing the ebb and flow of the produce season along those routes enables you to better prepare for the price increases and capacity decreases. When those periods are approaching, search for harvest updates and weather forecasts to get an even clearer idea of when the peak begins and ends.

The Right Brokerage Ensures Produce Season Success 

Produce season is an excellent example of when having a brokerage partner can benefit you by helping you access shipping quotes and book loads. While it's natural to shop around to ensure you're getting the best rates, an experienced brokerage partner can help you access capacity during the peak season that you might not be able to get otherwise. Furthermore, a long-lasting partnership can enable you to access better prices during high-demand periods.

There's no better partner for produce season (and year-round!) than Edge Logistics. Our CAPACITY platform helps shippers find the best routes and prices quickly. CAPACITY can identify the most suitable carrier for your specific needs, including reefers, expedited shipping, and special handling. Additionally, CAPACITY assesses each carrier's risk and ensures they can accommodate your unique requirements.

We possess in-depth knowledge of shipping perishable produce, and you can rest assured that every carrier in our CAPACITY network is pre-vetted to ensure they know how to handle and transport perishable foods properly. Edge Logistics also ensures that carriers adhere to Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations.

Once your shipment is en route, Edge's suite of technologies makes it easy to track it and monitor temperature and conditions throughout the journey.

For the Best Results in Produce Season and Year Round, Shippers Choose Edge

Produce season, which occurs between March and July, is a time of heightened reefer shipping nationwide. Peak produce across the United States can cause increases in freight costs and a decrease in reefer availability.

For grower-shippers looking to deliver perishable produce quickly to manufacturers or retailers during the produce season, a broker partner is essential. Brokers like Edge can help shippers access limited reefer capacity at better prices and ensure the speedy and safe delivery of produce.

It's never too early to start planning for next year's produce season. Request a quote from Edge Logistics today

About the Author

Maria Callegari

Maria Callegari