Milk Minute: Haulers are the Dairy Industry’s Crucial Link

By John Fritzler, MMPA Director of Logistics and Plant Production Planning

Milk haulers are a crucial link for our dairy supply chain. They connect milk processors and dairy farmers through their essential work every day. Unfortunately, a growing trend pressuring the efficient flow of milk from farm to plant to consumer is the declining number of truck drivers and milk haulers across the country.

Older drivers make up 80 percent of the current commercial driver work force with 57 percent over the age of 45 and 23 percent over the age of 55. As these drivers get ready to move into a well-deserved retirement, there is a smaller pool of younger drivers ready to take their place. Only 20 percent of drivers are under the age of 45. This is not just a U.S. issue; Europe has a similar age breakdown.

Hauling companies often struggle to attract younger workers for several reasons including lifestyle, compensation, and regulatory age restrictions (must be 21+). These days, people have more options for places to work and many blue-collar jobs are in high demand and are competing for workers. Warehousing demand has almost doubled, and e-commerce shopping has more than doubled during the pandemic. These two segments have pulled resources away from commercial driving and has resulted in carriers having high turnover and struggling to fill open positions. For every nine postings, the trucking industry hires one driver, as opposed to the warehousing industry filling two out of every three postings.

The commercial driving industry and carriers can explore many opportunities to attract and retain valuable team members: 1). Increase driver compensation and benefits. 2). Decrease time on the road. 3). Advocate for lower regulated driving age. 4). Improve diversity and reach out to minorities, women and veterans who may be underrepresented. 5). Follow technology improvements including autonomous trucking, and other advancements that may attract workers due to reduced stress and boredom.

What does this mean specifically to the dairy industry?

With greater competition for resources and dairy needing niche drivers (tanker endorsement and milk samplers license) rate increases are likely, and lack of qualified drivers is a risk. There is potential that carriers hoping to retain drivers by being competitive with similar industries may ask for a change in milking times to reduce driver down time.

Milk hauling companies can explore alternative strategies to attract more drivers:

  • Invest in worker safety and quality of life to stand out for job seekers.
  • Establish a career development program and emphasize opportunities for drivers.
  • Provide on-the-job training to minimize the entry barrier of commercial driver’s license (CDL) and milk samplers licensing requirements.

Fortunately, the dairy industry benefits from the community formed between haulers and farmers. Studies have found that more experienced drivers (greater than 5 years) find driving more enjoyable the longer they drive. This is very evident in dairy with the number of experienced drivers. Drivers and dairymen build strong bonds through daily communication and shared respect.

The dairy industry is made strong through the valuable contributions of the people throughout our supply chain. As we look to the future, it is important to focus on supporting current and future milk haulers so that we can continue producing and marketing milk.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2021 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »