While again urging the Department of Transportation to grant agricultural haulers a waiver and limited exemption from the electronic logging device mandate, Farm Bureau in recent comments responded to the department’s efforts to provide clarity to the 150-air mile agricultural commodity exemption and the hours of service regulations.
Until recently, very few Farm Bureau members or agricultural haulers were aware of their ability to use the newly interpreted 150-air mile agricultural commodity exemption, which provides exceptions from the HOS rules for the transportation of agricultural commodities within a 150-air mile radius from the source of the commodities. Enforcement officials, too, likely have very little knowledge about this exemption. This lack of awareness, combined with the unforgiving realities of ELD technology, makes the need for clarity all the more pressing, Farm Bureau emphasized.
In terms of what products are categorized as agriculture commodities, all nonprocessed food, feed, fiber, livestock and nursery and greenhouse crops qualify, according to Farm Bureau. Agricultural commodity “sources” are farms, ranches and other locations where agricultural commodities are loaded for transport, including livestock markets and grain elevators.
“Animals are unpredictable at livestock markets. Just like at a ranch, they can balk at the loading chute, be uncooperative, and need to be loaded carefully in accordance with appropriate animal husbandry techniques. All of this coupled with oftentimes long post-sale or load-out lines makes applying the flexibility afforded to a ‘source’ of livestock to livestock markets or agricultural commodity at a grain elevator a logical conclusion,” Farm Bureau said.
Had congressional lawmakers wanted to exclude grain elevators or livestock markets from the definition of an agricultural commodity source, they could have easily done so, the group noted.
Farm Bureau is also urging the department to expand its interpretation of the 150-air mile exemption. Current informal Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration guidance limits a driver’s use of the exemption to once per trip. However, the concept of such a “trip” is not defined in either the statute or the related regulation, so limiting the exemption only to the first “source” of any given “trip” is a narrower interpretation than the statute calls for.
“Such an interpretation also opens the use of the exemption to additional confusion in situations where some agricultural commodities or livestock are unloaded and others are picked up and calls for further subjective interpretation as to when a ‘trip’ is started and concluded,” according to Farm Bureau.
In a similar vein, the organization challenged proposed guidance that indicates once the hours of service rules have begun to apply on a given trip, they continue to apply until the driver crosses back into the area within 150 air-miles of the original source of the commodities and is returning to that source.
According to Farm Bureau, the law clearly indicates that each farm, ranch, grain elevator, livestock market or other location where an agricultural commodity is loaded for shipment is a “source” of an agricultural commodity and, as such, each act of “transporting agricultural commodities from the source” is entitled to the 150-air mile radius exemption described in the applicable regulation.
In addition, time spent operating unladen vehicles traveling to or from the source of an agricultural commodity should be considered exempt time, as the proposed guidance states.
As Farm Bureau continues to encourage the administration to give agricultural haulers relief from the ELD mandate, the organization is also working with Capitol Hill lawmakers on a legislative solution to the ELD mandate and HOS challenges.