In a year where April brought more than its fair share of showers, here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we’re ready for some of those May flowers. If you feel the same, like a bit of comfort would do you well in the days ahead, you’re in luck; as the final month of spring, May is a time of rebirth across North America.
Where transportation is concerned, May is the sight of a grand reopening nationwide. Produce season steadily ramps up across the southern U.S. and the construction industry begins performing its duties in full force.
Failing to plan for the transportation shifts that occur around our nation during May leaves many shippers at a disadvantage, underprepared for May’s capacity crunch and surprised by the affect this has on spot rates.
Here at ATS, we’ve been navigating the transportation industry in May for nearly 70 years. During this time, we’ve seen how impactful going into May with the right understandings and a well-formulated plan can be for companies moving freight within it.
In this article, we’ll break down exactly what, year after year, May means for transportation capacity so that you can plan your shipments accordingly. In turn, with this information to lean on, managing your supply chain during May’s 31 days will be far easier than it was last year.
Below, you’ll find comprehensive breakdowns of how things change in the transportation industry during May, including:
- How the dry van and reefer marketplace shifts in May
- How May affects open-deck transportation
- What you should expect for your over-dimensional shipments during May
- The impact of DOT blitz week this month
- How Memorial Day can make things challenging
Additionally, we’ve included some helpful tips for overseeing your freight and taking your transportation budget further this month.
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How May Impacts Dry Van and Reefer Freight Movement
No matter the time of year, dry van and reefer trucking companies shoulder a large burden. These carriers, which are responsible for transporting the commodities we need every day — like food, beverages and general merchandise products — are constantly busy.
Starting in the waning days of April each year, and carrying well into May, these trucking companies see their workloads expand even further.
You see, in southern portions of the U.S. (from Florida to California) produce harvest starts a rampant climb — a climb it sustains through most of summer.
Since the process of pulling products from the fields/groves is so time-sensitive (each product has a definitive expiration date) it’s crucial that plenty of dry van and reefer capacity is readily available in these areas. Without a transportation solution, getting fresh products from the fields and onto store shelves would be impossible — leading shippers to pay increased rates to secure capacity throughout these regions.
For drivers pulling dry van and reefer trailers, the heightened demand in these areas can be really attractive. As a group of workers with strict “on-duty” regulations to abide by (known as their hours of service), guaranteed work and continuous demand for their services draws truckers to southern states in droves during May.
With good planning and some collaboration with a trusted transportation provider, you’ll likely find it easier to find capacity into the southern U.S. throughout May.
Even if your cargo doesn’t get drivers into the produce hotbeds of Florida, Georgia, Texas or California, expect to see a relaxed rate to move dry van and reefer freight in that direction.
On the flip side, however, securing capacity away from these demand-rich regions often costs a bit more than usual in May. Getting reluctant drivers, who enjoy the certainty that accompanies southern produce season, to leave the sanctuary of harvest areas will take some persuading in the coming weeks — increasing the price of using their trailers.
Although this is by no means a comprehensive list, here are some examples of the products moving around various states during May:
Within these and other southern states, we often see the overall market tighten as produce harvests and distributions soak up much of the overall dry van capacity — capacity that would otherwise help shippers across industries.
For this reason, expect to see some capacity constraints when moving dry van cargo — whatever it may be — around these areas of the country throughout May.
How May Impacts Open-Deck Transportation
May is the first month where weather across the northern U.S. stabilizes substantially. It’s not until the final month of spring that weather patterns in this part of our nation truly shift, bringing on brighter, warmer days.
As a direct result of this adjustment, the projects that couldn’t be accomplished from November to April are kickstarted in May. Road construction, building improvements and infrastructure projects (to name a few) start moving forward during the final month of spring.
And, since the contractors responsible for completing this work have such a limited window in which to do so (until the cold returns), they need open-deck capacity and they need it now.
For this reason, it’s not uncommon for the open-deck transportation market to tighten across the board during May as shippers jostle for limited trailer space in states like North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Iowa.
In other areas of our country — like the southeast and throughout Texas — outbound raw materials and equipment begin making their way toward job sites and retailers around the midwest and northwest in May. Getting all of the pieces in place for a successful few months of hard work makes a significant dent in the open-deck market during May.
As such, in order to get your open-deck cargo moved as cost-effectively as possible, make sure to give your carriers 24-72 hours of lead time — prior to the moment your freight needs to load. Doing so will help them ensure the absolute best-fit solution for your shipping needs.
How May Impacts Over-Dimensional Freight Movement
Construction and agriculture construction equipment and machinery begin moving with greater regularity in May.
You see, the frost laws, governing roadways across the northern U.S. and Canada start to subside in most states/provinces. In turn, the retraction of these rules — which limit the total gross weight carriers can haul on a given road — opens up oversized freight transport in areas where it simply wasn’t possible in months prior.
With so many projects to complete and little time to do so, it’s full speed ahead for oversized freight in areas where frost laws existed previously.
That said, it should also be noted that it could be more difficult to source an solution for your oversized cargo — especially without proper planning — this May.
In recent history, open-deck freight rates have risen to levels that directly compete with those tied to the movement of oversized loads. In turn, drivers that would normally haul oversized products — requiring far more discipline, skill and safety prowess — have opted to forgo doing so, instead deciding to haul legal cargo.
If you have oversized freight to transport, expect to pay more to do so this May; enticing drivers toward hauling these shipments will cost more than you’re normally accustomed to.
What Else Should You Know About May This Year?
Now that you have a high-level understanding of the major capacity shifts to expect in May, we hope you’ll feel a bit more comfortable as May marches on. That said, there are still two additional wrinkles you should be aware of going forward.
Both DOT “blitz week” and Memorial Day will impact your supply chain at different points of the month, here’s what you should know about each of them and some planning tips to employ.
DOT “Blitz Week” May 16-18
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Administration (CVSA)’s annual International Roadchecks take place for a 72-hour period every year in late spring-early summer.
This year, “blitz week” as it’s often referred to, will begin the morning of May 16 (a Tuesday) and end 72-hours later on Thursday, May 18. During this period, capacity will tighten across the board as local, area and highway law enforcement officers seek to pull over and check every commercial motor vehicle they happen upon.
Although anti-lock braking systems and cargo securement will be the focus of this year’s checks, trucks and trailers may be inspected for any number of things at the discretion of authorities.
For this reason, and the fact that no amount of pre-trip checking can prevent things from happening during transit, many drivers opt to avoid moving freight over these 72 hours in May.
Navigating the capacity crunch and related rate hikes that accompany “blitz week,” will take proper planning in the coming month. If at all possible, it’s recommended that you ship around this timeframe — sending freight the week before or after May 16-18.
If your deadlines won’t allow you to make this adjustment, your next best bet is to give carriers plenty of lead time to secure a solution. Usually, 24-72 hours of notice before your shipment needs to load, is sufficient.
Related: DOT Week 2023: What You Should Know About Blitz Week This May
Memorial Day: Monday, May 29
Moving freight on or around a national holiday is never easy — especially when that holiday lands in the middle of the week. These national break periods — where businesses and facilities across the U.S. close up shop — make it difficult to secure capacity at competitive price points.
Memorial Day, the national holiday where we remember all of the U.S. military personnel who died in service to our country, falls at the tail end of May each year.
Although Memorial Day creates a long weekend and doesn’t disrupt the entire week (like a Wednesday holiday can), moving freight will be far more expensive over this period.
You see, asking a driver to pick up your load on Friday, May 26 and deliver following Memorial Day (when your consignee opens again), will cost more. Instead of allowing this driver to maximize their hours of service and delivery your shipment as soon as they arrive, three-day weekends do the opposite.
In these situations, drivers (who only make money while under a shipment) will have to “sit” on your shipment — preventing them from hauling other loads or going home to their families.
As a result, prepare to pay more should you need to move cargo over Memorial weekend. If you can’t avoid sending outbound shipments over this period – the case for many companies as the end of the month approaches — be sure to communicate with your consignee(s).
Ask each receiver whether they plan to be open for deliveries over May 27-29. If they will have workers around, ask them if your delivery would fit their schedules — slipping one in will save you substantially.
On the other hand, if all of your receivers are closed, make sure to secure delivery appointments at their earliest convenience to avoid paying even more.
Related: Moving Freight Around a Holiday: 3 Critical Planning Tips
One Tip For Taking Your Budget Further In May
At the end of the day, maximizing your transportation dollars will take great carrier partnerships. A well-rounded network of providers can do wonders for your logistical supply chain, helping you save money through slight adjustments and historical optimization.
As things begin opening up this May and remain that way for the foreseeable future, learning to work alongside your providers, matching your needs to their capabilities will be a great ally.
Our largest tip here is to ask yourself this question for each of your shipments:
“What’s truly most important, my pickup or delivery date?”
Relay your response to your carrier. With this understanding, they can cater their services and the actions they take to your needs.
Shipments that have a firm delivery date but are flexible on pickup, for example, allow carriers to formulate a plan based on multiple pickup dates/times instead of forcing them to provide capacity with less lead time (which can lead to higher rates).
On the other hand, when relayed to your carrier promptly, firm pickup dates — though a bit more challenging to price competitively — can be met with ease.
Either way, relaying your pickup/delivery flexibility ahead of time has the potential to save you money in the long run, as good communication often does.
Hit the Ground Running This May!
Whew, we made it. As a month that’s unique in many ways, May always has a lot in store for shippers, carriers and consignees. That said, we hope you feel a bit more comfortable now.
Successfully navigating the next four weeks will take a firm grasp of what to expect and how to plan — which, at this point, you have a better understanding of.
However, when it comes to managing your supply chain during busy times, there’s no such thing as too much preparation.
And, with so many other shippers to compete with this year, you’ll want to ensure servicing your freight is as appealing as possible for drivers. So what do you need to know?
Here is a comprehensive guide to finding a truck faster by making your freight more appealing to trucking companies and their drivers.
Download it for free today, and set your freight apart throughout May and into the future.
Finally, if you have any questions about how ATS can help you get the most from your transportation decisions in the month ahead, reach out. We’re always happy to help you become the supplier that always delivers, no matter what May throws your way.