Ag haulers exempt from new rules
Haulers of agricultural products have been given a temporary exemption from a new state law for securing cargo that would have left many truckers unable to comply and halted the movement of California fruits and vegetables.
After hearing from numerous haulers, farmers and other agricultural advocates, the California Highway Patrol and the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration last week tentatively agreed to allow haulers to continue using current methods for securing agricultural loads through this year's harvest season.
The temporary exemption is only for cargo hauled from the field to the first point of processing or packing, including items hauled in bins, boxes and tubs. It does not include hay, although farmers hauling hay for themselves are still exempt from the new rules.
Without the exemption, haulers of agricultural goods would have been required by the new law to tie down all cargo with straps running side to side, a federal standard that the state adopted last year with the passage of Assembly Bill 3011.
As part of the agreement for the temporary exemption, the agriculture sector will collaborate with the CHP to develop safety studies to show that California's practices for securing cargo meet the federal requirements, said Emily Robidart, California Farm Bureau Federation director of field crops and farm policy. Deadline to submit the safety studies is Dec. 1, at which time the exemption is lifted.
The Farm Bureau and other ag groups worked with the governor's office and state legislators to secure the temporary exemption and find a workable solution.
Robidart noted that if the safety studies unveil that the current methods used by truckers in the state will not meet federal requirements dealing with loads shifting during transport, it is likely that the federal standards, or some variation of them, will be enforced.
"If the previous securement methods do not comply, we need to be prepared to provide alternative solutions that do," she said.
Haulers contend the new method is costly, time consuming and not as safe because the loads are no longer locked together as one unit. Also, an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 trucks in the state would have to be retrofitted because most trailers that haul agricultural products are not equipped to use straps and meet the new standards.
With harvest beginning for many California crops, truckers say there is not enough time to order all the pieces of equipment needed to retrofit the trucks. Without them, truckers would risk getting a safety citation that could cost as much as $700. Farmers fear that if truckers cannot comply with the new requirements, they would be unwilling to haul agricultural products.
"While the exemption will get us through the current season, we still have significant work to do to obtain a solution prior to the 2008 harvest," Robidart said. "Our ability to obtain reliable safety studies will be a key factor."
The temporary exemption will become official some time this week. The Farm Bureau is encouraging members to provide feedback during the safety studies process.
The Farm Bureau also will be providing comments at a public hearing on the new regulations on June 27 at 9 a.m. at the California Highway Patrol office, 444 North Third St., Suite 310, Sacramento.
(Ching Lee is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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