New truck rules would hurt farmers

Curt Watson, a farmer who raises sugarbeets, wheat, soybeans and corn on his farm in Renville, Minnesota, considers public safety the number one concern when it comes to farmers trucking their product to market.

So he has no problem with requirements for safety inspections of trucks and other current regulations, which are aimed at keeping farmers and the general population safe on the roads.

But he worries that the latest rules being formulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration won’t make anyone safer and would reduce the overall safety and efficiency of the food production industry and make farmers less efficient at a time when global competition is critical.

In essence the FMCSA would treat most farmers trucking products from their farms to the local cooperative the same as an overland commercial trucker taking products from one corner of the country to the other. Barring proof that 100 percent of the farm product will be used in-state, such a transaction would be considered interstate commerce, and as such, the farmer would need a commercial driver’s license. Also, anyone operating farm machinery with a gross vehicle weight 10,000 lbs or greater would need a commercial license.

“This isn’t a workable solution,” said Watson. “We want people to be safe on the road, but we don’t see how this helps farmers or the general population be safer on the road–in fact it might be just the opposite. In the current labor market, finding enough people with CDLs in a timely way during harvest would not be possible. If you force farmers back to using a tractor and wagon or single axle vehicle to haul product it will make travel on rural roads slower and perhaps less safe than having the option of making these short hauls in semis, which is a common practice among Midwestern farmers.”

The new regulations also would in effect penalize farmers for making sensible crop sharing agreements. Though many farmers who rent land simply pay cash, others are able to make agreements with landowners to share both the risk and reward of growing crops by paying the rent in the form of a share of the crop. The proposed regulations would consider the farmer a “for-hire” trucker when trucking the land owner’s share along with his own. In such a case, the farmer would be required to hold a commercial driver’s license.

Watson and his neighbors, like many farmers across the Midwest make a go of it financially thanks in part to the ability for teen children to operate some farm machinery during the critical periods of planting and harvesting.  Because commercial truckers must be 21 years old, the new requirements would essentially eliminate the ability of adolescents to make that crucial contribution to the family business.

“We are worried about the impact of this on farmers of all sizes, but small family farmers would be especially hard hit,” said Watson.

Farm groups are now encouraging farmers to make sure they let the federal government know how counterproductive these new rules would be.

“I really hope many farmers will take the time to educate government officials on this issue,” said Watson.

FMCSA has extended the public comment period on the new rules to Aug. 1. If you’re a farmer, or rely on area farmers, you can share with them why you think this is such a terrible idea.

Send comments online to http://www.regulations.gov by following the instructions on the website. They also may be faxed to 1-202-493-2251 or mailed to Docket Management Facility, U.S. Department of Transportation, Room W-12-140, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE, Washington, D.C., 20590-0001.

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