Federal agency explains request for ag information
By Christine Souza
After farmers and ranchers responded with overwhelming concern to a notice requesting guidance on safety regulations for agriculture, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it was on a fact-finding mission, and is "not proposing new regulations for the farming community."
The FMCSA recently closed a comment period regarding the applicability of its existing safety regulations to operators of certain farm and off-road vehicles. Even before the comment period closed, agency Administrator Anne Ferro responded to comments received from farmers and ranchers.
"The feedback we've received so far has reflected significant concern among the agricultural community," Ferro said in a statement posted on the agency website. "So we wanted to be clear about the purpose of this notice. We are not proposing new regulations for the farming community. What we are doing is seeking input and solutions from the community on three important issues."
California Farm Bureau Federation Legislative Policy Analyst Andrea Fox said the information request from FMCSA provided an opportunity for farmers, ranchers and organizations to submit important information.
"It is important that FMCSA understands how unique and varied agricultural vehicles and equipment are and how they are used on our farms and ranches," Fox said. "In the comments submitted to the FMCSA on behalf of Farm Bureau, the seasonal nature of ag production was explained, and the fact that many of the vehicles are used during the season for specific on-farm work and then parked for the rest of the year and should not be compared to commercial motor vehicles that are driven 365 days a year on the road."
In a notice published in the May 31 Federal Register, the FMCSA said federal motor carrier safety regulations include several exceptions for agricultural operations. The FMCSA sought public input on:
- The distinction between interstate and intrastate commerce in deciding whether operations of commercial motor vehicles within a single state are subject to federal motor carrier safety regulations.
- Factors individual states use in deciding whether farm vehicle drivers transporting agricultural commodities, farm supplies and equipment as part of a crop share, farm lease agreement are subject to commercial driver's license regulations.
- Whether off-road farm equipment or implements of husbandry operated on public roads for limited distances are considered commercial motor vehicles.
Comments submitted by the American Farm Bureau Federation recommended that the agency revise its definition of interstate commerce in a manner "that more accurately reflects the market chain of American agriculture," because "farmers and ranchers move their products irrespective of any particular destination and without any 'intent at the time of shipment.'"
AFBF added that "by applying a one-size-fits-all approach, FMCSA regulates a large number of agricultural producers who should not fall under the agency's jurisdiction."
Solano County grape grower and cattle producer John Mangels said, "To apply local harvest activity to these rules on interstate commerce, I think that's really reaching."
He said he believes that state rules on commercial licensing of farm-vehicle drivers are more than adequate.
"If the driver were a for-hire carrier, then he would fall under FMCSA regulations for commercial vehicle licensing requirements, but it is unreasonable to tie this to a farmer delivering his commodity to a point of processing, a livestock auction yard, or to a transfer point," Mangels said.
Regarding the exemption for implements of husbandry, Fox said the states have the option of exempting farmers from the requirement to obtain a commercial driver's license. In California, an implement of husbandry is a vehicle used exclusively in an agricultural operation and driven by the farmer or employee for the farmer's operation, and only incidentally driven for not more than a mile on the highway. Farm vehicles used for hire are not considered implements of husbandry and are therefore required to comply with California commercial motor vehicle laws.
"The federal rules have given the states the option to adopt this rule, which I call 'the farmer provision,' where a farmer or his employee is allowed to operate any vehicle or combination of vehicles up to 26,000 pounds gross vehicle weight without a commercial license," Mangels said. "That is by far enough regulation, in my view."
FMCSA Administrator Ferro said her agency remains willing to listen to agriculture.
"As the largest user of freight transportation in the nation, the agricultural industry is also one of U.S. DOT's most important constituents," she said. "We may not ultimately agree on every issue, but we will always listen and do our best to help America's farmers succeed."
"We will continue to monitor what is happening at the federal level, provide additional information and work to help the agency understand that no one cares more about the safe operation of farm and ranch vehicles and machinery than farmers and ranchers," Fox said.
A FMCSA spokesperson said the agency expects to respond to the public comments sometime in September.
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.