As We See It.... The Trucking Business Reverse, Neutral or Forward?

Log Truckers, have you had your fill of added costs from rising fuel prices, elaborate recordkeeping, the Federal data cast net called CSA, or your state weight enforcement? Are you idling, or moving backward in trucking and not taking the steps needed to figure out how to make it a more profitable activity? If you haven’t taken the opportunity to reevaluate your business practices internally, it should come as no surprise that many of the recent changes in trucking operations stem from third party actions.

Remember when the first lightweight trailers, in-woods and on-board scales, and GPS systems were introduced? The first loggers to use them gained cost reduction and increased profit. It was when the rest of the pack caught up that lower hauling rates became the norm because everyone was now more “efficient”. You became part of that “average tons per load” calculation.

“Efficiency” in trucking has been the buzz word for a number of years, and we’ve all heard it, “be efficient and lower your costs.” Unfortunately, if you operate in a geographical area dominated by one or just a few delivery markets you have some added insight at what “efficiency” really means: declining trucking rates are directly related to increased trucking efficiencies. You can’t expect your profit margins to increase while others are figuring out a way to directly benefit from your actions.

Most improvement initiatives have elements of safety, favorable regulations, customer satisfaction, and profitability walking hand in hand. Add in some technology that keeps a real time stopwatch on your handy work and you are almost there. What is still missing is the fact that the hauling experts in our industry, our loggers and log truckers, are not putting some of these elements together for their own benefit, letting third parties dictate these actions and taking their percentage off the top: Improving your trucking operations means taking the initiative yourself.

Using dispatch trucking as an example, we all know that logging and chipping operations depend on a smooth, consistent and predictable flow across the deck. Central dispatch trucking systems that will improve the percentage of loaded miles is not a bad concept if you can reap the profit from your efforts. Losing control of haul schedules and having potential for bottlenecks at the loading deck are real issues to address. A logger who has honed a fine-tuned trucking business for himself might see his profit margins diminished under a central dispatching system. Some regions of the country are seeing mill operated dispatch systems where the loggers have been asked to become part of the pool and are left wondering how it helped their bottom line. If it makes for higher efficiency and lowers cost, why can’t loggers do it themselves?

The transportation committee of the American Loggers Council (ALC) exists to try and address some of these issues. By interacting with loggers and log haulers from all across the country, we benefit from the hundreds of years of cumulative experience that can speak to the many issues that are impacting our nation’s forest commodity producers.

Examples of solutions that have stemmed from the activities of the ALC include defining what is considered an off-road vehicle for tax purposes, working with the IRS to hold up the partial exemptions of the Highway Use Vehicle Tax, working with members of Congress to allow State legal weight tolerances on the Federal Interstate Highway system (a work in progress), and setting up a website at www.foresthauling.org to provide a comprehensive listing of links to all federal and state agencies dealing with regulations, permitting and guidelines for the forest commodity trucking industry.

We invite you to become active in these discussions and to take the rig out of neutral and begin moving forward in these discussions and ask yourself, is my trucking business in reverse, neutral or forward.

Doug Duncan is the Executive Director for the North Carolina Association of Professional Loggers and the Chair of the American Loggers Council Transportation Committee, His offices are located in Cary, North Carolina and he can be reached at 919-271-9050 or email at: contact@ncloggers.com.

The American Loggers Council is a non-profit 501(c)(6) trade association representing professional timber harvesters in 30 States across the U.S. You can visit their web site at www.americanloggers.org or contact them at 281-622-7244 for more information.