4 Tips All Shippers Should Follow This Produce Season

To help successfully plan for your reefer needs this year, it's important to understand why produce season affects capacity everywhere — not just in produce regions — and for everyone — not just produce shippers.

Justlight Adobe Stock 726799623
Justlight AdobeStock_726799623

When temperatures start to rise across North America, demand for refrigerated truckload capacity quickly follows.

Why is that? Because it means produce season is underway.

This annual event impacts reefer capacity from coast to coast, and all businesses who ship temperature-sensitive freight need to pay close attention to avoid being left out in the heat.

To help successfully plan for your reefer needs this year, it's important to understand why produce season affects capacity everywhere — not just in produce regions — and for everyone — not just produce shippers.

Why produce season impacts the whole supply chain

If you’re a produce shipper, this is your business’s make-or-break time of the year to go all out to ensure you meet your revenue goals.

Transportation must be locked in, reliable and supported by plentiful backup options. None of your product can make it to market less than fresh, and you’ll be competing with other produce shippers for the capacity to get it there.

But why should you care about produce season if you’re a consumer-packaged goods (CPG) or pharmaceutical shipper? Because there is a finite number of refrigerated trucks on the road, and your supply chain also depends on being able to access them.

Each year, produce season plays out in a series of predictable steps that make clear why reefer capacity can be strained for shippers everywhere.

  • Even before the first crops come off the trees and out of the ground, produce shippers will have lined up dedicated capacity to hopefully get them through the season. When that first harvest happens, they will lean on their networks to start hauling those fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Demand for surge capacity booms in harvest regions. Regional carriers in areas where the season is heating up will transition large portions of their fleets to capitalize on demand in the produce sector (and the elevated rates that come with it).
  • As a result, refrigerated capacity will be extremely strained for other shippers throughout the produce region, forcing them to lean on the spot market to keep their freight moving.
  • Spot rates inbound to produce regions will drop as national carriers reposition their fleets to meet demand and capitalize on the high regional rates.
  • Demand will thus become strained nationally, even outside active produce regions, as fleets chase the biggest paydays.


This pattern will repeat regionally across North America throughout the spring, summer and autumn months. In each region, once the produce has been picked and processed, the rate environment will reverse — inbound rates will rise, outbound rates will drop and fleets will move on in search of the next harvest.

Follow the weather: Mapping produce season from South to North

If you ship temperature-controlled freight, the first thing you need to know heading into produce season is what lanes are going to be impacted when.

As the temperature tends to warm up earliest in the south, it’s no surprise that the first fruits and vegetables to hit the market will do so in southern Florida and Texas.

Beginning in March, much of this early season produce originates in Mexico and moves into the United States. via border cities like McAllen, Texas, and Laredo, Texas, and the Port of Miami. Cities and lanes within 200-300 miles of these entry points will see reefer capacity impacted at this time.

Throughout Q2, produce season will heat up in adjacent regions such as northern Florida and Texas, Georgia, North and South Carolina, New Mexico and Arizona, and California.

Finally, the rest of the Mid-Atlantic states, New England, the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest will join the party in July and August with harvests continuing through October until the days shorten and the weather gets cold once again.

4 tips for surviving produce season

So, what can you do to weather the hot weather? Regardless of the industry or the freight you’re shipping, here are four ways to prepare your supply chain for the impact produce season will have on it.

1.      Plan early. If you’re getting your refrigerated capacity lined up in the early spring, you’ve probably waited too long. Anticipate how your transportation needs will be impacted well in advance during annual RFP season. Have both primary and backup capacity secured before the weather warms up and affects the lanes that matter to you.

2.      Maintain carrier relationships year-round. Staying on the good side of providers can help ensure they honor their commitments to haul your freight even when their resources are stretched and elevated spot rates are calling out to them. Be sure to tender freight consistently throughout the year — not just in produce season — so they value your organization as a trusted shipping partner.

3.      Monitor carrier performance closely. While other KPIs might matter more to you at other times of the year, keep a close eye on primary tender acceptance as well as on-time pickup and delivery throughout produce season. If any of the major players in your network aren’t pulling their weight, plan to replace them ahead of next year’s season.

4.      Take advantage of well-connected 3PLs. Freight brokers thrive on cultivating and maintaining broad carrier networks to help shippers meet whatever needs may arise. With experienced, connected third-party logistics (3PL) providers in your transportation network, you can avoid some of the major headaches shippers often face in those times when you just can’t avoid the spot market.

Produce season is a major event for shippers across North America, but it doesn’t need to be one that keeps logistics managers up at night. With a deep understanding of the forces that drive it, the regions it affects and the steps to set yourself up for success, you should be able to navigate it comfortably.