No new regulations for agricultural interests, FMCSA says

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Wednesday, Aug. 10, announced that it has no intention to propose new regulations governing the transport of agricultural products. The agency also released guidance designed to make sure states clearly understand the common-sense exemptions that allow farmers, their employees and their families to accomplish their day-to-day work and transport their products to market.

After hearing from farmers earlier this year, FMCSA initiated a review to make sure states didn’t go overboard in enforcing regulations on agricultural operators and to ensure consistent access to exemptions for farmers. No regulations will be proposed for any new safety requirements or changes to the rules governing the transport of agricultural products, farm machinery or farm supplies to or from a farm, the agency says.

“We have no intention of instituting onerous regulations on the hardworking farmers who feed our country and fuel our economy,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Farmers deserve to know that reasonable common-sense exemptions will continue to be consistently available to agricultural operations across the country, and that’s why we released this guidance.”

The guidance – which does not impose any new rules on farmers – follows the Federal Register public notice FMCSA issued on May 31 asking farmers, farm organizations and the public to give input on the agency’s longstanding safety rules.

“FMCSA is pleased with the input we’ve received from the agricultural community and members of Congress,” says FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, adding that the agency received about 1,700 comments. “The vast majority called for us to preserve the guidance that leaves states to carry out the farm exceptions as they have for many years.”

Earlier this year, farm groups came to FMCSA with concerns that some states might not allow exemptions to commercial driver’s license requirements for certain farm operations using “crop-share” leasing. When FMCSA investigated, there appeared to be wide differences among states in how the “for-hire” and related agricultural exceptions were being applied.

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In order to ensure consistency, FMCSA asked state officials to cease all new entrant safety audits on farmers engaged in “crop-share” leasing and issued the public notice soliciting input that would provide insight on the complex use of farm equipment on public roads. The new guidance, which is based on that input, clarifies three critical issues:
 Interstate vs. intrastate commerce. Since the difference between the two has been determined by the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts, FMCSA has limited flexibility to provide additional guidelines. The agency has concluded that new regulatory guidance concerning the distinction between interstate and intrastate commerce is not necessary. Generally, the states and the industry have a common understanding on this point. To the extent that fact-specific questions arise, the agency will work with the states and the industry to provide a clarification for the specific scenario;
 CDLs. Federal regulations allow states to make exceptions to CDL regulations for certain farm vehicle drivers such as farm employees and family members, as long as their vehicles are not used by “for-hire” motor carriers. Some states have questioned whether this exemption applies to drivers who work for “crop-share” or similar arrangements. FMCSA’s notice includes guidance to ensure consistent application of the exemption. After considering the public comments, the agency has determined that farmers who rent their land for a share of the crops and haul their own and the landlord’s crops to market should have access to the agricultural CDL exemptions given by the states; and
 Implements of husbandry. In a perfect world, farm vehicles would operate only on farms, while commercial trucks would operate on public roads. The reality is that farm equipment that is not designed or intended for everyday use on public roads often is used for short trips at limited speeds. This creates a gray area for classification. After considering the public comments, FMCSA has determined that most states already have adopted common-sense enforcement practices that allow farmers to move equipment safely to and from their fields. In areas where farm implements are common, the enforcement community and the agricultural community have achieved a mutual understanding of which safety regulations should apply to farm equipment on their public roads.