The last 12 months have been anything but typical. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on freight and rates, including reefer demand and rates. Port congestion, winter storms, vaccine distribution, COVID-19 outbreaks and unpredictable consumer demand all have put pressure on freight markets. Demand for reefer capacity currently is sky-high and there’s no end in sight, as the United States produce season has just begun. The remaining 2021 produce season certainly isn’t likely to be the same as produce seasons in years previous. With this in mind, we’ve identified four things that reefer drivers and carriers should keep in mind during this year’s produce season to make sure it’s a successful and prosperous one.

1. March Was a Historically-High Month for Reefer Demand — and Produce Season Wasn’t Even in Full Swing

The February winter storms in Texas and across the Midwest and Northeast caused reefer rejection rates, which measure demand, to hit all-time highs, topping 50 percent during the first week of March. While demand for reefer capacity has fallen slightly since then, demand is still extremely high and produce season is really just beginning in Florida, Texas and California. The U.S. Department of Agriculture currently is reporting severe reefer shortages all across the country. Since the U.S. produce season is just beginning, you can expect demand for reefer capacity to remain high for at least the next few months or perhaps longer. In fact, some experts are predicting that summer 2021 could be the hottest summer ever for freight.

2. You Can Maximize Your Earnings by Monitoring Demand in Specific Lanes

As any experienced trucker will tell you, when demand and rates are up, it’s important to take advantage and “make hay when the sun shines.” To ensure that you take full advantage of the current reefer demand, it’s important to monitor which regions and lanes are hot and cold on a week-by-week basis. Trucker Tools’ three times/week market report, “Where’s the Freight?,” tells you where demand and rates will be high and low over the next five-to-seven-day period. You can use this information to make better decisions on loads and to avoid taking loads into markets where reefer demand is projected to be low. “Where’s the Freight?” is posted on Trucker Tools’ blog and social media feeds every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

3. The Pandemic Has Changed Procedures and Amenities Available at Shipper, Receiver Locations

As reefer trucker Kim Loescher pointed out in a recent interview with Trucker Tools, the pandemic has changed a lot of the policies and procedures in place at shipper and receiver locations. In many cases, drivers aren’t allowed on shipper’s docks before and during load-in, which means you can’t check the temperature of the produce with a pulp thermometer to verify whether the produce being loaded into your trailer is at the proper temperature. Most shippers and receivers also require that you wear a mask when you interact with their employees. Access to restrooms and other amenities may be restricted during the pandemic, as well. Don’t forget, you always can use the Trucker Tools mobile app to search for truck stops, rest areas and specific amenities that are nearby your pickup and drop-off points.

4. Detention/Dwell Time Is Up

In a recent Trucker Tools survey, 66 percent of the truckers who responded to the survey told us that they’re seeing an increase in delays at shipper and receiver locations. In fact, 44 percent of the truckers who answered our survey told us that extended shipper wait time/detention is the number one challenge they’re facing during the pandemic. It’s important to factor in increased wait times at shipper and receiver locations when you’re trip planning to ensure that you have enough fuel to maintain the correct temps on your produce loads while you wait. Extended delays also may impact your ability to get to your next stop on time.

Are you looking for more produce-hauling tips? Check out Seven Best Practices for Produce Season: Key Takeaways from Trucker Tools’ Recent Produce Survey. To download Trucker Tools’ app, visit https://www.truckertools.com/carriers/.