North Dakota Trucker Shortage Disrupts Milk Supply Chain
North Dakota has milk. He just doesn’t have the truckers to deliver it.
“Farmers are still producing, bottlers are still putting it in jugs and cartons, but we’ve had difficulty getting it to stores, schools and nursing homes,” said Lance Gaebe, director of the North Dakota Milk Marketing Board.
Two major milk distributors, Red River Dairy and Lakeview Dairy, closed last week, leaving 44 school districts in eastern North Dakota scrambling to get milk.
Gaebe says there are only four or five milk distributors left in the state, a number that has dwindled over the decades.
“Lots and lots of consolidation, extra costs, extra challenges with drivers and fuels, etc., we have fewer and fewer of these dairy distributors,” Gaebe said.
Other distributors have mobilized to fill the need and all the schools again have a distributor.
Prairie Farms in Bismarck has added a truck to Devils Lake, Kemps/Cass Clay in Fargo is covering Fargo and a Casselton grocer who has partnered with a retired distributor is focusing on Grand Forks.
“Everyone will be on deck to try to resolve this issue,” Gaebe said.
Govt. Doug Burgum Executive Decree is also trying to alleviate the problem by removing 30-day hours of service requirements for truckers delivering milk.
The number of CDL drivers has dropped over the past few years and Job Service North Dakota currently has over 1,000 openings requiring a CDL.
“Not having 100% truck drivers will put a big knot in the supply chain,” said North Dakota Motor Carriers Association board member Kelly Krapu.
Krapu says further shortages could arise due to the COVID vaccine mandate for drivers crossing the Canadian border.
“You’re going to see more issues with things coming onto your local shelves in your North Dakota stores the longer the vaccine mandate is in effect,” Krapu said.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation tries to facilitate the process of obtaining a CDL.
“We’re really ramping up our operations to provide more testing opportunities,” said Brad Schaffer, director of NDDOT driver licensing.
Schaffer says this month has had more test drives scheduled than last year with more people trained to perform tests.
“We’ve had about 3,000 fewer CDL drivers over the last three to four years, so we want to do everything we can to help people get on the road who want it,” Schaffer said.
The current average wait time for a CDL test at NDDOT sites is 10.5 days, down from an average of 80 days in 2019.
Schaffer says the NDDOT sent a letter Thursday to about 1,200 people who recently let their CDLs expire to see if there is interest in getting back on the road.
Krapu said those job openings requiring a CDL are expected to increase over the next decade and with it, salaries for the position.