Farmer worries about trucker shortage amid coronavirus outbreak

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Farmers are looking forward to the spring planting season, but one Linn County farmer said he is worried about the number of truck drivers being stretched thin with a national shortage of drivers and an increase in demand for products because of the spread of the coronavirus.

Farmer worries about trucker shortage amid coronavirus outbreak

John Airy, a farmer near Central City, spent the afternoon working machines to help him prepare for the spring but said in the next few weeks he is hoping to start getting in orders of fertilizer and pesticides.

“It could be interesting with transportation when it comes to the point that we are applying a lot of fertilizer,” Airy said.

Gov. Kim Reynolds did lift restrictions on the number of hours truck drivers can work as well as the size of the amount of product they can haul. It’s something Airy said is great for business, but that there is another side on the supply chain.

“I know with the push at the grocery stores with extra sales in food, some of the processors and distributors have struggled a little bit,” Airy said. "Not at the availability of product, there is enough available, but getting the product distributed as volumes go up.”

“The whole country is probably going to hurt for qualified and good drivers,” John Roberts, a supervisor at Phillipps Trucking in Cedar Rapids, said. “It’s tough on the construction side and it’s probably tough over the road too.”

Roberts’ company hauls construction materials throughout the state of Iowa. He said it has been hard to find qualified drivers before this, and it will likely be harder in the coming months.

“Finding the cream of the crop is really hard to do, it’s really competitive out there,” Roberts said.

Mike Naig, the Iowa Agriculture Secretary, said that this isn’t an issue he is currently seeing, but said it is something that is on his department’s radar.

“Trucking is one of those that could be an issue, certainly, if it’s a workforce issue like employees getting sick,” Naig said.

Airy hopes to be in the fields in a few weeks but said a lot needs to happen first.

“We are looking at how the weather plays out this spring, and how long this COVID-19 hangs on for,” Airy said.