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Shortage of truck drivers means opportunities for farmers

If you want to talk to Erik Oberbroeckling, you are probably going to have to catch him rolling down the road. Today, he’s driving a 2018 Kenworth, hauling his own corn to an ethanol plant. Once that is delivered, he will swing around and grab a load of soybeans to bring back to a grain terminal near his farm in Garnavillo, Iowa.

“Normally, I might not haul grain this far out,” he explains, “but if I can flip around and do a back haul load of soybeans and make some money on the way back, I can get my grain hauled out to a better market.”

Oberbroeckling Enterprises Inc. started out as a need. The family’s row-crop operation was growing, and they needed a couple of semis to haul commodities. “We had trucks we used five months of the year, so we thought we could maybe generate some income with them,” he says. “Farming and trucking is a symbiotic relationship.”

The trucking business used to be an offshoot of the farm business. Now, they are two totally separate businesses and treated as such. “The trucking business is more profitable than the farming business today,” he says.

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Erik, 36, his brother, Ryan, 30, his father, Mike, 64, and his mother, Barb, work full time for both businesses. The family runs a little over 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans, and has a 2,400-head building to custom-feed hogs. Barb does the books, Ryan takes care of the hog buildings, Erik manages the truck business, Mike fills in wherever Erik and Ryan need assistance, and everyone pools efforts on the row crops.

Erik’s wife and Ryan’s wife work off the farm and assist the operation during periods of peak demand. There are eight full-time and 15 part-time employees in the truck business, and more are being hired. 

The farm bought its first semi in 2001 and first commercial truck in 2005. For the next five years, they hauled for hire only when time allowed. The gateway drug to trucking, says Erik, is hauling grain for hire, because you already have the hopper bottom to haul grain. Hauling grain is not a get-rich-quick deal by any means, he warns.

They expanded when a nearby business, a silica frac manufacturer, hired them. “We kept buying trucks, and we kept them all busy,” says Erik. “That’s what really launched us. We saw that it was profitable, so we rolled with it.”

When the frac sand business slowed down, the Oberbroecklings branched out and started working with several load brokers. One regular trip they make is hauling meat and bonemeal out of Omaha to Wisconsin for pet food. Today, they have 11 trucks. 

10 Tips on Trucking From Erik Oberbroeckling 

1. Be reliable year-round.

You can’t show up for three months in the summer and three months in the winter. If you are reliable, you make connections and it starts to snowball. There is no shortage of drivers for short hauls. The shortage is over-the-road drivers who are gone two or three days.

2. Get a Class A commercial driver’s license (CDL).

You also need to license your truck commercially. That runs around $2,100 a year. You must have a DOT physical and medical card to drive out of state. 

3. Get a USDOT and MC (motor carrier) number.

It’s minimal cost, but it takes a month to arrive.

4. Get commercial insurance.

A first-timer can expect to spend close to $1,000 per month per truck. Once you’ve driven for a couple of years with no claims, the costs will come down 25%. (The cost to insure a semi for farm use is $1,000 to $2,000 for the year.)

5. Get an electronic logging device if you haul for hire more than 150 miles from home at least eight days of 30.

Costs are $200 to $1,000 and some have an ongoing subscription fee.

6. Get an International Fuel Tax Agreement number if you drive a truck out of the state you are licensed in.

Keep track of the miles you drive in each state and fill out a quarterly report. Each state wants its fuel tax dollars.

7. Start with a reliable truck that doesn’t break the bank.

Unlike tractor brands, trucks use common parts. You can put a common engine or transmission in any one of them. The cab is the only unique part.

8. Ask for service records if you buy a truck with higher miles.

If you can find something that has recent work done to it, it’s probably a good value.

9. Know your cost per mile (what it costs to drive the truck up and down the road).

There is no shortage of cheap freight to haul. The problem is finding cargo that pays enough to make it worth your time. Turn down jobs that aren’t worth it. If you can’t make money on a load, keep the truck in the shed.

10. Drive for a trucking company if you only want to haul in nonfarming seasons.

That way, if equipment breaks down, the company pays.  

Phone Erik Oberbroeckling:  563/880-9888

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