The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently clarified hours of service exemptions for haulers of agricultural commodities, said Kirby Wagner, Illinois Farm Bureau assistant director of transportation.
“This guidance clears up some questions about how the exemption for agriculture applies,” Wagner said. The new information applies to operating unloaded vehicles, operating beyond 150 air miles and sources of agricultural commodities, he noted.
Starting Dec. 18, 2017, many truckers were required to use an electronic logging device (ELD) to record their time behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle, a regulation found within hours of service rules. This prompted ag interests to request changes in the hours of service limitations.
As a result, in December and again in March, FMCSA delayed the application of ELD requirements for all haulers of ag commodities and livestock until June 18. The congressional omnibus spending bill added an ELD exemption for livestock and insect haulers until Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
As published on May 31, the FMCSA clarifications apply only to agricultural commodities – not farm supplies for agricultural purposes. The agency clarified that both a loaded and unloaded return trip to transport agricultural commodities qualifies for an agricultural exemption. This includes a trip without a load to reach the source where an agricultural commodity will be loaded.
FMCSA clarified the exemption applies within a 150-mile radius of the ag commodity source – even when the overall trip to the final delivery point is beyond the 150-mile radius, Wagner said. Only hours driven outside the 150-mile radius would be counted toward a driver’s hours-of-service limit for drive time and on-duty time both coming and going.
FMCSA stipulated that only so long as a commodity retains its original form will it remain an “ag commodity” eligible for the hours of service exemption. Once processed, the commodity no longer qualifies.
The agency further clarified that the location where the commodity is aggregated and stored may be viewed as a source from which the 150 air-mile radius is measured. Along with farms and fields, other locations, such as elevators and auction barns, would be considered a source.
In addition, multiple stops to load additional cargo are allowed within the 150-mile radius – as long as the cargo first loaded remains on the truck. The first cargo’s source will serve as the starting point to measure 150 miles. After all the commodity is unloaded, a new trip could be started from a different source.
“Generally, the FMCSA interpretations and guidance document are favorable for agriculture,” Wagner said, adding some agriculture sectors did not receive everything they sought. Many asked FMCSA to change things that would have required a change in law, which is a congressional responsibility and not within the agency’s authority.
Wagner added, “The bottom line is that exemptions for farmers operating within 150 miles of the source are more generous, but those who operate beyond the 150-mile ag exemption may still find that they’ll need to have an ELD.”
Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.