Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cut to the Chase: Farmers Double-Clutching Over Proposed Transportation Changes

If adopted, regulatory guidance recently published by the U. S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) will mean that farmers moving a single cow to the local sale barn in a 16-foot trailer will fall under the same regulatory regime as Yellow Freight or J. B. Hunt. Farmers only have 30 days to comment on this regulatory overreach. We'd better get busy.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an arm of the USDOT, points out the lack of a uniform definition of “implements of husbandry” and notes that many states exempt tractors, combines and other farm equipment from vehicle safety regulations. At this time the agency says implements of husbandry and off-road agricultural equipment don’t meet the definition of a commercial motor vehicle, but officials are asking if they should. Such a determination would mean more regulations for farmers.
Secondly, federal officials question whether a producer hauling commodities to market, part of which is his and part his landlord’s, should be considered “for hire.” We feel if the farmer transporting the commodity also raised the commodity, it shouldn’t matter, but if FMCSA puts farmers in the category of “for hire” carriers, they would be regulated like commercial truckers.
More problematic is the issue of interstate versus intrastate commerce. In terms of grain and livestock movement, we have long believed interstate commerce occurs when a state line is crossed, but FMCSA argues some farmers may be engaged in interstate commerce from the time they leave the farm gate even though they never enter into another state because their commodities, at some point in the supply chain, will.
FMCSA says it comes down to the farmer’s “intent” – are they hauling commodities they know will end up in another state? Few farmers know the final destination of their grain or livestock, so it’s ludicrous to consider this interstate commerce. The FMCSA guidance could result in farmers being forced to obtain commercial drivers licenses, federal medical cards, and more even if they only drive a short distance in state using pick-ups with trailers.
Congress long ago distinguished agricultural transportation from commercial since it is typically seasonal in nature and occurs over relatively short distances. That distinction may be left alongside the road if FMCSA puts in place a new regulatory road map.
Due to FMCSA’s short public comment period, farmers and agriculture organizations have only until the end of this month to comment on these issues. We urge you to go to the following website to read the guidance document and instructions for submitting letters:
Farm Bureau will be commenting on the proposals and requesting an extension so farmers have adequate time to learn about potential impacts and provide input.

(Garrett Hawkins, of Jefferson City, Mo., is the director of national legislative programs for Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.)

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