(June 2, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) With truck shipping rates increasing, companies are considering other options.

Dan Sumner, professor of agricultural economics at the University of California-Davis and director of the university’s center for agricultural issues, said shippers might move to rail, possibly culminating in a facility in the central coast region that would allow for greater consolidation of rail shipments. No large vegetable shippers in the Salinas Valley have rail sidings now, he said.

In view of energy price shocks, some suppliers are preparing for big changes.

“My opinion is that (the cost of energy) will never be what it once was,” said David Mixon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla.

Mixon said Seald Sweet is seeking to consolidate locations as much as possible. Taking costs from the system is essential to ensure that consumers won’t be priced out of the market.

With trucking costs adding 15 cents per pound for apples delivered to the East Coast, Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash., said shippers will be looking to optimize transportation efficiencies, including greater use of options like Railex LLC, the Rotterdam, N.Y.-based rail service with a facility in Wallula, Wash.

Mixon said the market of tomorrow won’t look like today.

“We as marketers, we as retailers, we as producers have to do more to reduce truck miles or food miles,” he said. “I see this industry changing drastically over the next five years due to this issue.”

While social responsibility can be credited as one reason for coming changes, he said common sense and reducing costs are front and center.

Mixon said consumer choices of fresh produce might be reduced in the future, with less California product shipped to Florida, for example. Or when product is imported, that produce might stay on the East Coast rather than be transported to the West Coast.

For imports, different ports of call may be used to reduce mileage, and Mixon said options like rail and shipments by ocean from Florida to East Coast markets would be examined. However, he said, options like rail may be slow to develop.

“Without a doubt we are looking at rail. Without a doubt we are looking at container services and bulk vessels,” he said. “We are trying to gear up the supplier base for that process so we can meet the demands the industry is going to place on them.”