The Impact of Transportation on a Farmer's Bottom Line
The shipping industry is a crucial component of modern agriculture. Without the vast network of trucks and ships crisscrossing the globe, stores wouldn’t exist — consumers would have to pick up their food directly from farmers. That could be a logistical nightmare, so growers instead ship their goods to retailers. Here’s how transportation impacts food producers.
Going the Distance
Around 20 percent of African food imports come from other African countries. Some nations, like the U.A.E., import almost 90 percent of their total food. Therefore, agricultural products often have to travel a long distance from farm to fork, sometimes up to thousands of miles.
Shipping companies have to transport many of these products in reefer trucks — refrigerated vehicles — to keep them cool, further increasing the cost of shipping. They also have to ship the products quickly to minimize spoiling.
Farmers cover most of the transportation costs for their crops. The farther a product travels, the more expensive it is to ship, so consumers end up paying higher prices for their food. Farmers sometimes store their crops until shipping costs fall, but this practice isn’t always feasible — the food will eventually spoil and store shelves would be empty.
The demand for exotic foods drives up shipping costs. That’s why products from other states or even other countries are often so expensive compared to their locally grown counterparts. But when retailers sell exotic foods at low prices, the farmers who grew and shipped the products can end up earning very little revenue. Consumers can choose locally grown products to help farmers reduce their shipping expenses.
Aging infrastructure can drive up shipping costs even more. Most farmers ship their products in bulky freight trucks that need smooth, wide roads.
Crumbling roads and collapsed bridges often force farmers to divert their shipments on less-than-ideal routes, increasing fuel expenses. Longer routes mean shipping companies must either pay their drivers more or make fewer shipments overall.
Farmers feel the effects of these added costs and end up spending more on shipping. With fewer profits left over from each harvest, producers have less money to spend on next season’s crops. This ripple effect can impact food production.
Governments should increase spending on road construction and maintenance to ensure truck drivers can take the most efficient routes. It improves highway safety, protects farm vehicles against damage from potholes and shortens travel times for everyone, including passenger cars and emergency vehicles.
It also reduces the agriculture industry’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
One common way to ship produce is by barge. River barges rely on full, deep waterways to sail, so droughts — which regularly plague Africa and the Middle East — can make it harder to transport crops. Shallow, narrow waterways mean fewer barges can travel at one time and cannot carry their usual amount of produce. Drought conditions drive up shipping costs and lead to greater spending for farmers.
Extreme weather can also impact ocean freight liners that transport food. Intense storms and rising sea levels make it harder to load cargo and safely ship it across the ocean. At the same time, melting ice caps make some Arctic routes more accessible than before, which could potentially benefit farmers — at least when it comes to shipping.
A Chain Reaction
The agricultural supply chain is complex, and a lot happens to crops on their way from field to table. Although climate change, international import demand and road conditions are outside a farmer’s control, they still impact the producer’s bottom line.
These factors can help or hinder farmers and ultimately affect the price of food. One thing is certain — without transportation, the agriculture industry as we know it could not survive.