Spring is the optimal time to start planting trees and planning your garden bed designs. For those nursery owners in the business of growing plants and shrubs, it is time to start shipping those seedlings and saplings to market. Here are a few words of wisdom for you....make sure your transportation service provider knows your business.
A seasoned logistics company, or 3PL, knows that freight is not just freight. There are as many variations in types of shipments as there are truck stops in the U.S. (there are approximately 10,000 according to Wikipedia)!
With so many different types of freight out there, it’s important to know how to handle each shipment to ensure its safe delivery. Every product category requires specialized knowledge of how to ship, such as: frozen and refrigerated, flatbed - with or without tarps, straps, step-decks, LTL and oversized loads.
“We have been doing this for a long time and we know what can happen when a nursery load isn’t handled properly,” says Robin Tull, one of Choptank Transport's original nursery team members. “January through the end of April, most customers are asking for dry vans, but once the season heats up, more often reefers are required – sometimes with the unit is never turned on, but used instead as more of an insulating barrier for tender plants.”
Here are just a few nursery-specific requirements you may need:
• Roof barriers: Metal roofs can get very hot. When loaded with stacked carts or trees that hit the ceiling, the leaves can burn from the generated heat. A barrier constructed of plywood, Styrofoam®, or heavy-duty tarp is sometimes required to protect cargo. Sometimes translucent (fiberglass) roofs will be used.
• E-trac logistics vans & reefers: E-trac strips are long pieces of metal running from the front of the van to the rear of the van. These strips are fastened to the van walls and have hooks on them that allow the straps to be easily installed around the carts. This keeps the product from shifting during transit.
• Drivers need to know their freight: Before a shipment leaves the point of pick up, drivers are sometimes given instructions about the load to avoid problems at delivery. For example, when a dormant load of trees is delivered, the trees are sometimes mistaken as “dead.” The driver often will be provided plant-specific literature to give the receiver that offers validation that the shipment is good.
(left photo: Example of e-tracks)
There are several ways a truck can be loaded with nursery freight. Tier-stacked and decked are two of the more common ways of shipping nursery items. Another interesting loading technique is called “bare root loading.” This type of shipment requires the floor of the van or reefer to be covered with straw and then a layer of mud with the product alternating in-between. The trailer is loaded from floor to ceiling and intermittently hosed down to keep the roots moist. After the van is unloaded, needless to say, the trailer needs a thorough cleaning!
Another method is floor-loaded, where the product is loaded pot-by-pot. This is a very time consuming process with sometimes as many as 1,500 – 2,000 pots being loaded at a time. It is important to note on the load agreement that it, “may require 4-6 hours minimum loading and unloading time,” so no one incurs any detention-time charges.
“It is so important that everyone is on the same page when shipping nursery freight. We don’t like surprises, and neither do our drivers, shippers or our customers,” comments Tull.
“Communication is key, and we are always very honest and upfront about who is responsible for what, like driver-only unload or driver assist. We are also available 24-hours a day, which is especially important with seasonal loads.”
The easiest way to load nursery stock is to use pallets. These shipments can be easily loaded and unloaded by electric or pump jack, which saves time, however, even with this type of shipment there are requirements. Straps are a must in order to secure the load in transit.
At Choptank Transport, we are very particular about our carriers. “We depend on these drivers to be the ambassadors of our company,” notes Tull. “Most nursery loads require driver unload and they have a lot of direct contact with customers. It is important that they are courteous and professional. We also try to take care of our good regular carriers and keep them loaded both ways. Carriers are an important part of our nursery team.”
It is not uncommon to have multiple stops on a nursery freight shipment. “We have seen as many as 50 stops on one nursery load,” continues Tull, who now manages our specialty services division. “There’s just nothing simple about shipping nursery freight, but we know it and we do it well.”