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Wanted: More haulers for dairy delivery, say experts

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — The dairy industry is in need of drivers, according to those who work to get milk from the farm onto store shelves.

“We are in a driver shortage,” noted Steve Kruk, the fluid milk transportation operations manager for Dairy Farmers of America’s Mideast area. “I’m telling you, just getting milk to market is something we’ve taken for granted for years. We have to watch that area as an industry. How are we going to get it to the plant?”

Competitive pay is a concern, as is quality of life for drivers, Kruk said. “It is seven days a week; it is constant,” he pointed out. “That is one thing the dairy industry offers.” Drivers might appreciate time off for family and other events, he added.

He joined two others working in milk transportation and processing for a discussion about the industry during the Indiana Milk Quality Conference on April 10. The event was sponsored by Indiana Milk Quality Professionals, Inc.

It’s difficult to keep drivers, said Jim Graft, of Graft Milk Transport, based in Fort Wayne. During his presentation, he told the audience, “If you have a CDL (commercial driver’s license), give us a call. We have a big turnover. Young people don’t want to stay committed to one job.

“The working hours also add stress. You miss family things you’d like to attend. You have to pay people a whole lot more to drive now. If you don’t have a driver, you can’t get anywhere with anything. I think that’s also true in other industries.”

The dairy industry has changed and much of that has been driven by competition, said Rob Ruppert, distribution manager for the Fort Wayne division of Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc. More stores are selling milk, meaning additional stops for deliveries in areas larger in size, he said.

“It’s costing more to get the milk from our cooler to the customers,” Ruppert explained. “The market is pushing us to greater distances.”

He praised the industry’s people for their work ethic. “Any person would be surprised at their level of dedication,” Ruppert noted. “They work 10, 11, 12 hours a day. There’s a lot of dedication and hard work the guys put into what they do.”

Dealing with unexpected issues while picking up milk from a dairy farm can add to stress levels, Graft said.

“You try to be at a farm at a specific time every day,” he noted. “It’s very hard to plan your day when there are problems you have no control over. You’re being depended on by a lot of different people – you don’t want to let people down.”

It’s important for drivers to do things correctly at each stop on their route, Graft said. “Cows don’t take off on holidays or take vacations,” he said. “We have to do a good job for the producers.”

The industry is also dealing with outdated facilities and equipment in many areas, Kruk said. For example, some plants have receiving bays that haven’t been changed for decades.

“We’re asking haulers to do what they did in 1970,” he said. “We are very antiquated, and it’s catching up to us very fast.”