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Building a New Partnership: USDOT and America's Farmers

Building a New Partnership: USDOT and America’s Farmers

By: Anne S. Ferro, Administrator
U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood often says that of all the Department’s responsibilities, safety is the most important – nothing else comes close. All of us at USDOT are working to build a transportation network that creates jobs and ensures America’s long-term competitiveness. Still, under Secretary LaHood’s leadership, safety is always priority one.

At the same time, we realize that well-meaning regulations can be burdensome if the government isn’t thoughtful about how they’re put in place. Finding the right balance between the two can be challenging.

In many cases, farmers and farm equipment don’t come under federal truck safety regulations when they are transporting products short distances, either within the farm or to a local market. This allows farmers to do business without meeting the same requirements as, for example, a company shipping goods across the country.

However, the lines of distinction aren’t always clear. So in May, USDOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a notice in the Federal Register seeking public feedback on how existing commercial truck safety regulations impact the agricultural community. The feedback we’ve received so far has reflected significant concern among the agricultural community. 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:

  1. Interstate vs. intrastate commerce. We’ve heard feedback that more clarification is needed between the two. Since the difference between the two has been determined by the U.S. Supreme Court and other Federal courts, we have limited flexibility to provide additional guidelines, but we are interested in feedback on how we can provide better guidance within the constraints of established judicial rulings.
  2. Commercial Driver’s License. Currently, Federal regulations allow states to make exceptions to Commercial Driver’s license regulations for certain farm vehicle drivers, as long as their vehicles are not used by for-hire motor carriers. We’ve heard questions about whether drivers who work for “crop share” or similar arrangements are eligible for this exemption.
  3. Implements of Husbandry. In a perfect world, farm vehicles would only operate on farms, while commercial trucks would operate on public roads. The reality is that farm equipment not designed or intended for everyday use on public roads is often used for short trips at limited speeds. This creates a gray area for classification. In the absence of guidance, enforcement officials sometimes cite carriers for violating equipment rules, even when doing so would be impractical.

A key principle of the Obama Administration is that the best public policy comes from bringing the most people to the table. Although USDOT doesn’t have a long history of working with the agricultural community, it’s time we rolled up our sleeves together and got started.

We’re well aware of the concern within the agricultural community regarding these three issues. The comment period is an opportunity to bring those concerns to the table. We’re eager for input and ideas about how we can achieve our safety mission without tying America’s farmers down with unnecessary burdens.

Nevertheless, the comment period only works if stakeholders take an active role in the conversation. At the request of a number of farm bureaus, we’ve just extended the comment period from June 30th to August 1st. This allows all participants more time to ensure that their voices are heard.

Everyone in this Administration – from President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary LaHood on down – is committed to the long-term success of America’s agricultural industry. In many ways, agriculture is the backbone of our economy – feeding hundreds of millions of Americans and billions more around the world. As the largest user of freight transportation in the nation, the agricultural industry is also one of USDOT’s most important constituents. We hope that this comment period is the start of a new and productive relationship. We may not ultimately agree on every issue, but we will always listen — and do our best to help America’s farmers succeed.

Posted: July 22, 2011

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