The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) each year compiles a report examining truck availability, use, and short-haul rates in the grain sector. Trucks play a vital role in transporting crops from fields to grain elevators, feedlots, ethanol plants, and other processors. Figure 2 shows the availability of grain trucks in 2019 and 2020 on a quarterly basis in the U.S. and North Central region compared to the prior 3-year average. Truck availability is measured on a scale from 1 to 5 (readily available to difficult to secure).
According to the AMS, grain trucks were easier to secure last year relative to previous years due to lower-than-usual demand in other sectors with the COVID pandemic. Greater truck availability might also have resulted from the regulatory relief provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for trucks hauling essential supplies. The AMS also found truck usage in both 2019 and 2020 exceeded the prior 3-year average. The large harvest in 2019 plus increased exports in 2020 heightened truck demand. Finally, truck rates and fuel costs were less in 2020 compared to 2019 and 3-year averages, again mostly due to the pandemic. The reduced rates benefited producers through lower shipping costs.
Figure 2. U.S. and North Central Grain Truck Availability Index