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CDLs: Officials hear farmers

Jeff Caldwell 08/12/2011 @ 11:10am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

When federal officials opened up the door to the possibility of requiring all farmers to have a commercial driver's license (CDL) to operate any farm truck or machinery on roadways, farmers responded. And now, officials are backing away from earlier ideas about the prospect.

"FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) seemed to try to cover its tracks by arguing that they initiated the review process 'to make sure states don't go overboard in enforcing regulations on agriculture operators, and to ensure consistent access to exemptions for farmers,'" says Iowa State University Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation (CALT) and ag law specialist Roger McEowen.

Those Guidance rules were originally based on the notion that those transporting ag goods were "common or contract carriers" and subject to interstate commerce regulation. But, after hearing from farmers commenting about such things as the availability of CDLs for younger members of a farm business, FMCSA said interstate commerce regulation does not apply to ag transportation.

"On the interstate commerce issue, the FMCSA reiterated that 'interstate commcerce is determined by the essential character of the movement,'" McEowen says. "FMCSA determined that clarification of the distinction between intrastate and interstate commerce was not necessary, and that further guidance would not be helpful to the ag industry insomuch as the farm exemption from the CDL requirements was not linked to intrastate or interstate commerce as some commenters had argued."

The clarification by federal officials and subsequent CDL decision, McEowen says, shows how influential farmers were during the initial comment period and how important such action can be in policy issues like this one.

"The FMCSA added that they never issued the Guidance rules to further regulate the transport of farm supplies to or from a farm. Whether that is true in a political environment that has markedly increased the regulation of numerous sectors of the economy remains to be seen," he says. "But, the vigilance of farm operators and groups seems to have paid off for the present time."

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