Moving Plants Without Losing Profits
New technologies and techniques help growers maximize and keep track of shipments.
June 20, 2008
Pushpins in a wall map may not be the best way to track logistics of perishable products like plants. Rising costs for fuel and drivers, all while growers are trying to cut costs, have led growers and transportation pros to look for new efficiencies.
Packing each truck to capacity is key, according to Richard Martins of Peninsula Trucking. That's why the company uses a multi-decked trailer system. Shelves are adjusted to plant height and Peninsula trucks sizes from cell packs to 3 gallon pots with this setup. Trucks are loaded last in, first out and the shelves are broken down as plants are offloaded. The shelves also allow growers to ship foliage without boxing, saving packaging costs as well as labor. There's less waste, also.
"We're able to save the grower some money with the way we ship - with the shelving - as compared to having everything boxed," Martins says. He says the biggest boost to improved shipping costs would be for growers to work together on combined shipments - shipments from several growers on one truck. For the most part, this isn't happening.
"If the receiver is large enough, I'm sure it is going on. But in terms of smaller-type people, there's no one way to hook it all together," Martins says. "The other thing would be if the growers cooperated with each other. In Florida, that's a bit odd because everyone competes with each other. They all ship to the same people and everyone tries to keep their information private."
Customers can order partial loads to be shipped by Peninsula Trucking, and seven or eight partials make up one load. Sharing shipments with different types of cargo can also help ease the shipping costs, trucking wicker and pottery along with plants, for example.
The technologies used when shipping have changed in the last five years, too.
"The big thing we're seeing now is global positioning system (GPS) units and integrating them into vehicle routing software," says Dan Buttarazzi of MicroAnalytics (www.bestroutes.com), provider of TruckStops software. "People want to see where their trucks are at all times." TruckStops integrates with GPS devices, sending routes directly to handheld or truck units. Mapping technology has also improved, Buttarazzi says, taking new housing developments, roads, bypasses and highways into account when planning routes.
Routing software like TruckStops takes a nightmare math problem (10 trucks, 100 stops), works out an algorithm and solves the problem - maybe even cutting down the number of trucks from 10 to eight or nine. The software can also help determine the best routes for picking up empty racks, based on existing routes and space availability on the trucks. Smaller and larger growers use the software the same way.
"There's no difference between the big guy and the small guy except the size of their problem," Buttarazzi says. "It's the same problem, just on a bigger scale."
Using a software product, over using simple mapping, is a step many growers are still making. The upfront investment can see a quick return on investment and can prevent lots of headaches. Buttarazzi asked a prospective customer recently why he was interested in TruckStops software."He said, 'It's not fun planning the routes for 45 trucks, all making multiple stops. I miss a stop here and there, forget to put a stop on the route and it takes me a long time. I need to speed the whole process up.' It makes life easier for you and that's the bottom line. People could still use typewriters, but using a computer is a little better."
MicroAnalytics also offers OptiSite software, which helps determine the best location in the U.S. for a distribution center. The program can help growers who are planning a new facility or are looking to close one of several distribution facilities, figuring which is best to close and which of the remaining facilities those displaced customers should be served from.
Sara Tambascio is senior online editor of Greenhouse Grower. You can eMail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follower her on Twitter @Sara_GG_TGC.