American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates the U.S. has approximately 3.5 million Class 8 trucks dispatched by over 210,000 trucking companies transporting 16.18 billion tons of freight in 2018, which is up significantly from 10.55 billion in 2016. In addition, ATA expects tonnage to increase to 20.7 billion tons by 2028 or 28 percent. If the forecast is realized, the trucking market will continue to need more Class 8 trucks and truck drivers.
Even with the slowest Class 8 order book since the first half of 2010, the strong bookings in 2018 has the 2019 Class 8 fleet expanding. The production schedule still has an order book of 200,000 units.
The more serious constraint is the need for truck drivers. The long-term answer is for a steady supply of new drivers. The easy answer of lowering hiring standards is not feasible due to the cost associated with an increase in insurance premiums and accidents. Hiring truck drivers is very difficult because a potential driver must meet age requirements, commercial driver’s license testing standards, strict drug and alcohol testing regimes and have a safe and clean driving record. Many communities and transportation companies have truck driving training programs to increase the number of drivers available to potential employers. Early returns in 2019 suggest these efforts are paying dividends but the driver gap has barely improved.
ATA “Truck Driver Shortage Analysis 2019” found that in 2018, the trucking industry was short roughly 60,800 drivers, which was up nearly 20 percent from 2017’s figure of 50,700. If current trends hold, the shortage could swell to over 160,000 by 2028. According to the ATA, the industry has a major challenge of hiring an additional 110,000 drivers annually. Almost 60,000 new drivers a year are needed to replace retiring truck drivers. The trucking companies can offer more money, steadier hours, and better benefits than farming operations. Farmers will have to adjust by having a better plan for transporting soybeans from farm to supply chain. The adjustment to lack of trucking labor will likely require more on-farm storage and scheduling deliveries over a longer time period. One positive is the demand for truck drivers provides farmers with an opportunity to monetize their Class 8 trucks during non-harvest periods.