Milk delivery companies shut in North Dakota; hours-of-service waiver ensues Milk delivery companies shut in North Dakota hours of service waiver ensues

Milk delivery companies shut in North Dakota; hours-of-service waiver ensues

Got milk?

That was a concern for people living in parts of rural North Dakota, so Gov. Doug Burgum has signed an executive order waiving hours-of-service rules for a very specific type of driver: those transporting milk.

The immediate cause for the waiver is that two dairies, both owned by the same person, shut down in recent weeks.

Their owner cited the inability to staff what by one estimate were a dozen driver jobs as the reason for the closure. 

Burgum, a Republican, signed the executive order this week. It took effect Tuesday, is in place for 30 days and applies specifically to milk drivers. (North Dakota already has a HOS waiver in place for propane drivers.

But the latest waiver is just one part of an effort by North Dakota to refill the ranks of drivers who haul milk and other products and are needed to meet minimum requirements for companies to service remote parts of the state.

In addition to the waiver, Burgum and the state’s agriculture commissioner, Doug Goehring, together announced several steps designed to get more drivers behind the wheel. In their announcement of the policy changes, they made clear that milk was at the heart of their concerns. The emergency measures are “designed to ease a shortage of truck drivers in the milk distribution that has affected schools, businesses and other customers.”

North Dakota’s numbers on CDL holders are discouraging. According to the press release issued by Burgum and Goehring, the state now has 49,858 CDL holders. In 2017, it had 52,824. 

According to Burgum and Goehring, the state is sending a letter to one-time CDL holders who have let that license lapse, encouraging them to renew. In other steps, North Dakota is going to seek to get CDL testing wait times down to 14 days by April, though that is actually longer than what the press release said was the current wait time, 10.5 days. But the state also said that waiting time had been 80 days in 2019. 

The effort also involves what the state is calling “CDL testing blitzes” in four North Dakota cities; setting up a self-testing program for companies in the private sector; and working jointly with Bismarck State College to establish CDL testing at various state offices.

While tight driver supplies are not new, what set off this flurry of activity was the closure of milk distributors Red River Dairy and Lakeview Dairy and the resulting scramble to serve their customers.

Lance Gaebe, director of the North Dakota Milk Marketing Board, said that while driver shortages were cited by the owner of the two dairies as the immediate reason for the closure, there were other financial issues “if you read between the lines.”

“Part of the challenge is getting into really remote locations and small customers,” Gaebe said in an interview with FreightWaves. He added that a milk distributor in the state cannot choose to deliver only to more profitable customers. It must serve all customers in a given area, which means schools and other institutions.

The areas served by the two shuttered dairies were described by Gaebe as “very remote.”

As far as what will happen after the 30-day waiver expires, Gaebe conceded his organization was “looking day to day here.” Other companies have picked up the slack in the interim, and all of the state is receiving its milk deliveries. 

The milk distribution system in the state, according to Gaebe, has been in place for many years. It keeps the distribution of milk as a separate activity that isn’t part of any broader food distribution. Only milk distributors ship milk; food distributors don’t. Gaebe said with changes in the transportation system, “it doesn’t work.”

Drivers in that system do more than just operate the milk truck, he said. They also are required to deliver the milk supplies into the end customer’s facility. “There are service aspects to it and that has been a challenge,” Gaebe said.

A possible partial solution would be to allow milk to be delivered by major food distributors. And while Gaebe said he supported that, he expressed concern that such companies tend not to want to serve all of the smaller customers that milk distributors now are required to supply. 

But the situation on the ground is stark, Gaebe said. “Years ago, there was a dairy distributor in every town, and now there are probably half a dozen in the whole state,” he said. 

More articles by John Kingston

3 more states waive targeted hours-of-service rules for 30 days

South Dakota waives hours of service to help petroleum resupply

Statehouse-driven Operation Open Road results in some trucking rules changes

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