"The USDA study provides the first holistic examination of agricultural transportation and highlights the essentiality of trucking to our modern agricultural production system," said Russell Laird, executive director of the American Trucking Associations' Agricultural & Food Transporters Conference.
The study, commissioned by Congress with the passage of the farm bill in 2008, said agriculture is the largest user of freight transportation in the U.S., claiming 31 percent of all ton-miles transported in the U.S. in 2007. Trucks provide a vital flexibility, the study said. "They are the most effective method of moving goods short distances and for assembling quantities of products at elevators and warehouses for transloading to other modes of transportation."
USDA also found that regulatory actions play an important role in agricultural transportation. For example, Congress has protected critical planting and harvesting activities subject to volatile weather and market conditions by mandating flexibility for movements of agricultural commodities or farm supplies by truck during those times.
Infrastructure funding is also key to the safe and efficient movement of agricultural goods, the study indicated. "America's roads are vital to truck transportation," said USDA.
The study also points out that trucking is more competitive in nature than ocean and rail, providing an attractive shipping option, even during times of rapidly increasing fuel costs. Ocean shipping and railroad are exempt from antitrust rules, which can decrease competition, reduce service, and raise rates, the study said.
"Recent escalating rail rates and declining service for some shippers has pushed more grain transportation onto trucks in recent years," said the study. In addition, the rapid consolidation of the railroad industry through mergers has resulted in a decrease in the unrestricted interchange of traffic and routing choices. Some of these changes decrease the competition and efficiency of the rail industry. "Shippers are concerned with switching limitations, restricted interchange, paper barriers, inconsistent service, high rates, excessive fuel surcharges, bottleneck rates, and the effectiveness of the rate challenge process," the study found.
To access the USDA study, go to www.ams.usda.gov/RuralTransportationStudy.