Truck rule will increase costs, area farmers say

Friday, July 29, 2011

Farm trucks could be subject to many of the same regulations as commercial freight companies under new U.S. Department of Transportation guidelines now under review.

Historically, agricultural transportation has been considered separate from commercial because it is typically seasonal and covers short distances.

A guidance document issued by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration questions whether farmers taking their grain or livestock to market should be treated the same as commercial truckers.

"It will increase their costs, certainly and be a tremendous inconvenience," said Mike Geske of Matthews, Mo., who serves on the National Corn Growers Association board of directors. "They're completely out of touch with reality. It's really a case of regulators gone wild."

If approved, the guidelines would require even a pickup truck driver hauling a single cow to a local sale barn to have a federal medical card certified by a physician, to keep a detailed maintenance log book and possibly to have a commercial driver's license, said Garrett Hawkins, director of national legislative programs for the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation.

There is no official estimate on the total cost of the guidelines. The fee for a Missouri commercial license, good for six years, is $45.

Currently, Missouri doesn't require a commercial driver's license if a farmer, family member or employee is driving a truck or farm equipment within 150 miles of their farm and is not transporting hazardous materials. The proposed guideline could be interpreted to require commercial driver's licenses.

States have also been given the authority to waive commercial driver's license requirements for farmers crossing state lines and Missouri has agreements in place with Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, Hawkins said.

"I don't have a problem with trucks being safe out on the road, and we want everybody to be safe," said Cape Girardeau County Farm Bureau president Dale Steffens. "But some of these trucks only get used one week out of the year, hauling grain to a bin on their own farm one mile up the road."

Federal regulators argue that because the grain or livestock farmers are hauling could eventually end up across state lines, the farmer's intent is interstate commerce and therefore, for uniformity, they should be subject to commercial transit regulations.

Hauling grain to river terminals like the SEMO Port constitutes interstate commerce under that position, Hawkins said, because the farmer knows his grain is leaving the state.

"The bottom line is farmers have long believed interstate commerce begins when you cross a state line and enter into another state," he said.

A highway patrol or local law enforcement officer would be charged with determining the farmer's intent when making a roadside stop.

"It creates a cloud of uncertainty when those stops are made," Hawkins said.

Another issue for farmers addressed in the proposed FMCSA guideline is whether a farmer hauling commodities to market grown on land they rent or sharecrop should be considered a "for hire" carrier.

"This is just silly because you're not being paid for doing it. To consider that a for-hire truck defies common sense," Geske said.

On Thursday, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood asking that the exemption for farm trucks, which Congress has historically granted, be maintained.

"I believe FMCSA's current approach is shortsighted and would place unnecessary burdens on our agriculture producers at a time they can least afford them," Emerson wrote.

Last week, Geske and others from the Corn Growers Association visited Missouri legislators in Washington, D.C., to express their concern over the proposed guideline.

"We're hoping common sense prevails," he said.

The FMCSA proposal is the latest in what Hawkins calls an onslaught of federal regulations targeting agriculture.

"It's making it extremely difficult for farmers to stay in business and discouraging young people from wanting to get into agriculture," he said.

Farmers are also hopeful a decision on the proposed FMCSA guideline will be made so they have some clarity before this fall's harvest, but a timeline on a decision has not been announced.

Public comments are being accepted on the FMCSA guideline through July 31 at http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulatio....

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

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