Agricultural cargo securement study funding welcomed

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The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced that $250,000 will be provided from the agency’s budget to fund a study of the strength of cargo securement methods currently being used for several agricultural commodities hauled in tubs and bins, such as fruits and vegetables. The work will be conducted by a government research organization, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Mass.

“This is welcome news for the fruit and vegetable industry in states such as California, because new cargo securement regulations are threatening to impose time-consuming additional requirements on the transportation system for such crops,” says Russell Laid, Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference executive director.

These regulations are being implemented by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as part of the effort to harmonize cargo securement among North American countries and are based on the North American Cargo Securement Standard Model Regulations. The new regulations have been in place since 2004 for interstate motor carriers, but concern arose in California recently when they were applied to intrastate commerce. Most such perishable crops only move a short distance from harvest to processing. Issues also have arisen with other agricultural commodities, such as chili peppers in New Mexico, hay in Nevada, and apples in Washington state.

In response to the concerns of industry, the California Highway Patrol set up a process for obtaining an intrastate exemption to the general cargo requirements on a short-term basis. This process will require a substantial amount of data reporting from motor carriers, and it will be necessary to build a case for a long-term exemption and possible reform of the federal rules. The next step in the process is to conduct engineering tests in a laboratory setting to prove that the strength of the current securement methods used in hauling this cargo is adequate, according to DOT standards.

“We are very grateful for the funding provided by DOT to conduct this study, since we understand that it is an essential part of the process of ensuring that our methods of hauling are secure to protect our cargo as well as our fellow road users,” says Joe Antonini, of Antonini Fruit Express in Stockton, Calif., who has been leading efforts from the industry perspective.