Dozens of agriculture and transportation groups that are part of the Agricultural & Food Transporters Conference (AFTC) of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), and other interested groups, recently sent a letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regarding the Hours-of-Service (HOS) rules for truck drivers.
FMCSA provided the opportunity to comment on the definition of "agricultural commodity," a critical element of the agricultural exemption to HOS rules. Currently, because of the agricultural exemption, the HOS regulations do not apply to the transportation of agricultural commodities by truck drivers operating completely within a 150 air-mile radius. Therefore, work and driving hours are not limited, and the driver is also not required to use an electronic logging device (ELD) or keep paper logs.
The letter noted that the recent mandate of ELD use and the subsequent discussion surrounding HOS flexibility provide a great opportunity to address the agricultural commodity definition and ensure that “we not only have processes covered but we write the definition in a way that the evolving industry will be covered 50 years from now.”
The letter puts forward a proposed definition for agricultural commodity for the purposes of determining the exemption qualifications for agricultural business activity. Such a definition would provide the flexibility needed to handle trucking capacity surges throughout the year, the groups said.
The letter stated that an agricultural commodity and livestock should be defined as:
- Any products planted or harvested for food, feed, fuel or fiber;
- Any non-human living animals (including fish, insects and livestock, as defined in Section 602 of the Emergency Livestock Feed Assistance Act of 1988), and the products thereof, that include, but are not limited to, milk, eggs, honey, etc.;
- Agricultural, raw forestry, aquacultural, horticultural and floricultural commodities; fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products that are sensitive to temperature and climate and at the risk of perishing in transit;
- Animal feed (including ingredients), and
- Products of preservation – e.g., products used during harvest or packing in final preparation for processing, including, but not limited to, bins, boxes, jars, cans, etc.
In the letter, the organizations noted that the HOS agricultural exemption was adopted in 1995, and since its adoption, several modifications have been made to accommodate the evolution of the industry.
“We are nearing our 25th year under the exemption, and even with our continued evolution and growth, we are able to provide a safety record that we are proud of,” the groups stated. “The clarification of the definition for agricultural commodities will not only sustain our exemplary safety record, but it will provide additional clarity for the industry, the agency and the enforcement officials on the applicability of the exemption.”