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August 23, 2023
Seasonality in trucking: why tomato picking in California can impact your t-shirt shipments in Michigan
It may seem like a spike in truckloads of tomatoes coming out of California shouldn’t impact the cost to move a load of t-shirts in Michigan, but it can. The freight industry in the U.S. is complex, and seasonality in trucking impacts many corners of transportation, including available capacity and freight rates.

Several factors influence demand patterns, and some are more foreseeable than others. Here’s a look at the most common seasons in trucking and what to do to stay ahead of them.

Produce/agricultural season: Harvest seasons generate time-sensitive demand as crops, such as fruit, vegetables, and grains, are transported to storage and processing facilities and markets. Produce season traditionally runs April through July, however, depending on the crop and region, some might start earlier or extend later. While your business and product might have nothing to do with produce, when this season starts, it has repercussions across the entire supply chain.

Holidays: Any holiday can bring a spike in certain types of freight. Summer holidays, such as Fourth of July, increase demand for outdoor furniture, yard supplies, and grills. November and December usher in Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah. That brings increased consumer spending for food and gifts, driving up freight demand. Global influences come into play during this time as well. The surge of imports from Asia in anticipation of the holiday season can stress port capacities, indirectly impacting domestic truckload capacities. The supply chain also tightens during Chinese New Year when the flow of goods slows down.

Peak season: Retail cycles and consumer demand heavily influence what is often referred to as trucking’s peak shipping season, which typically runs from August through October. Recurring events such as back-to-school shopping bring increased freight as retailers prepare.

Lesser-known surges: Every industry can experience its own surge period, which also pulls capacity from the market. Construction work picks up from April through October when weather improves. That increases the need for building materials. Healthcare sees demand increase in the winter as respiratory illnesses and weather-related accidents increase, driving more purchases of medical supplies.

Other variables: Fuel prices can be an important component of rates. Seasonal changes in diesel fuel prices, often seen in spring and fall when refineries switch between winter and summer fuel formulations, can also lead to price fluctuations. Changes in trade policies often come with sudden surges as businesses rush to get products across borders before tariffs kick in. The same can be said of extreme weather events, which have unpredictable paths and can suddenly divert significant trucking capacity to relief efforts.

How does seasonality affect operations?
Only so many trucks and drivers are available, so supply and demand principles come into play. As demand increases, the overall trucking industry has less capacity to offer. Freight rates tend to rise when capacity tightens, especially on the spot market. On the flip side, during less busy seasons, cost-per-mile may drop as capacity loosens.

When it comes to the day-to-day operations, carriers have to adjust their schedules and routes to accommodate fluctuating demand, leading to potential inefficiencies.

How can you plan for the seasons?
The most important point to remember is that trucking seasons hit earlier than you may expect, especially as shippers move up orders to avoid running out of inventory. Simply being aware of seasonality can help you get ahead of the challenges they create. Start by getting your planning done now so you can allocate resources and secure capacity. By analyzing historical data and market trends, you can better anticipate demand patterns and secure in your transportation needs in advance.

You want to ensure capacity is available when you need it, so establish relationships with carriers, brokers, freight forwarders, or logistics providers, creating customer agreements so you're ready to go. If you're confident in your freight volumes, you can lock in contracts, or you can plan to use the spot market for short-term spikes or unexpected demand.

Visibility into your shipments and freight is also more important when capacity is tight. Real-time awareness gives you critical insights into where your load is, if there is a disruption, and if you need to intervene so your products arrive where and when you need them.

Prep now
Amazon Freight can help you get through your next season with its 50,000+ trailers and carriers. Get going by creating an account and then start quoting in three easy steps.
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