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Lawmakers Work to Help Haulers
Recent legislation introduced to the U.S. Senate could pave the way to a smoother road for agricultural haulers. The Modernizing Agriculture Transportation Act (MATA) would work to improve the transport of agricultural commodities through reforming the hours of service (HOS) and electronic logging device (ELD) regulations.
Addressing her constituents, cosponsor of the bill Joni Ernst (R-IA) said in a press release from her office: “Iowa farmers and producers need flexibility to get their commodities to market in an efficient and timely way. By bringing those most impacted by these regulations to the table, our bipartisan proposal is aimed at ensuring our roads stay safe, while making sensible reforms to transportation regulations.”
Ernst joined Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) in introducing the MATA to the Senate.
Creation of a Working Group
At the heart of the proposed legislation is the formation of a working group charged with identifying obstacles to the “safe, humane, and market-efficient transport of livestock, insects, and other perishable agricultural commodities,” says a summary of the MATA released by Senator Hoeven’s office.
The group would also develop guidelines and recommended regulatory or legislative action to improve the transportation of these commodities. It would be made up of members of a cross-section of the transportation and agricultural communities at the discretion of the secretary of transportation. Members would include representatives from the Department of Agriculture and “individuals with knowledge and expertise” in areas of highway safety; commercial motor vehicle and transportation industries; animal husbandry; and the transportation of livestock, insects, and agricultural commodities.
“The establishment of the working group gives us a seat at the table; we’ve never had one relating to HOS and ELDs,” says Steve Hilker, owner of a livestock-hauling firm at Cimarron, Kansas, and chairman of the transportation committee of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA).
The USCA supports the Modernizing Agriculture Transportation Act and so does the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Livestock Marketing Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Honey Producers Association, and the Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union.
Winning “a seat at the table” relating to regulations affecting the transport of livestock and other perishable agricultural commodities has taken time and hard work. Hilker was among those who four years ago began annual trips to Washington, D.C., to speak with lawmakers about regulations relating to HOS and ELDs.
Reworking the HOS Regulations
An ELD synchronizes with a vehicle engine to automatically record driving time. The ELD replaces the paper logs drivers kept previously in order to document HOS time. The work of Hilker and other agriculture representatives earlier won a temporary exemption from the ELD mandate for truckers hauling perishable agricultural commodities.
“But we really need to focus our efforts on changing the regulations relating to hours of service,” says Hilker. “Because representatives from the livestock industry were never given a voice in how the regulations were written, there was never any thought addressing the fact that the living, breathing animals, insects, or fish that were being transported were also being affected by these regulations.”
Current HOS rules mandate that a driver can only be on duty for 14 hours and can actively drive for no more than 11 of those hours, Drivers attaining those maximum-hour allotments must stop and rest for 10 consecutive hours.
For livestock haulers, the rules are nightmarish. A cattle hauler driving to a ranch in North Dakota can burn up two to four hours of driving time just getting to the ranch and experiencing possible delays in loading the cattle. With 10 more hours of driving, the trucker might get 500 miles down the road, but short of the destination at a feedlot in Kansas. Having run out of legal driving time, the driver’s only option is to find a place to unload the cattle or let them stand in the truck for 10 hours while the driver takes an enforced break.
“Either option adds extended stress to the cattle,” Hilker says.
Hilker and representatives of other agricultural groups are proposing HOS changes that would give haulers greater flexibility in delivering loads.