Nick Hoffman, general manager of Linebooker, a nimble, online bidding platform that matches trucks with loads, says technology is unleashing new ways for farmers to cut costs in the weak economy.
“Innovations such as drones and drip irrigation are helping farmers cut operational costs, but transport is emerging as another avenue for cost-cutting. Traditionally, farmers have locked themselves into contracts with transport suppliers.
“When crops are market-ready, there are urgent transport requirements and small windows of opportunity. But with new technologies offering online crowd-sourcing for the best price among a range of suppliers, these arrangements are beginning to change.”
Nick says the increasing diesel price (a major component of transport costs) is forcing farmers and transporters to add efficiencies to their operations. “Intense transport requirements for crops at certain times of the year in certain parts of the country mean that farmers are challenged by a finite number of transporters and the availability of trucks.” For example, in citrus, the season is different based on the type of fruit (see chart).
In the case of limes and tangerines, there is a small four-month opportunity to get produce to market, creating truck shortages during overlapping peak seasons among different crops.
Because of the perishable nature of agricultural products there is a one-way requirement to transport produce to cold storage as quickly as possible, but return trips for transporters are limited. “Fortunately, the power of supply and demand are now made transparent through online bidding, offering better ‘lane balancing’ to fill trucks that would otherwise be empty.”
Linebooker has seen its ‘virtual fleet’ of trucks grow by over 50% in the past three months. With over 4 500 vehicles available among a range of transporters, the company connects customers requiring transport to transporters looking to efficiently fill their trucks. With access to an array of vehicles and trucks (from refrigerated trailers and taut liners, to flatbeds, tippers and pantech trailers) the company is broadening its services into South Africa’s agriculture sector.
“While we don’t own any trucks, our online platform connects farmers looking to address their transport requirements during peak periods to a wider range of transporters keen to carry loads. Sourcing transport at the best price can be a time-consuming exercise; and we know farmers have very little time to spend on sourcing transport at the right price while harvesting.”
According to Linebooker, the company has saved customers an average of 12% since beginning operations eight months ago. All of the company’s transporters are pre-approved and vetted for requirements such as goods-in-transit insurance. Moreover, transport controllers look after administrative elements associated with deliveries such as securing proof-of-delivery documentation and invoicing.