Agriculture groups seek expanded driving hours for farm sector

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 312 views 

More than 50 agriculture groups have asked the Federal Motor Coach Safety Administration for relaxed drive time rules for drivers hauling agricultural products amid the coronavirus crisis.

The groups sent a letter to FMCSA on Wednesday (March 25) outlining their case for the rule exceptions.

“As trucking capacity and the availability of drivers tightens due to COVID-19, neither surge nor normal trucking capacity may be adequately available to provide the required just-in-time deliveries to animal feeding operations, food processing and manufacturing plants, distribution facilities, export facilities and retail outlets, which could result in significant food chain supply disruptions,” the letter said.

While some changes have been made for trucks hauling food to grocery stores or distribution centers through April 12, the group said those changes ignored the beginning and middle segments of the food and agriculture supply chains.

“Each sector of that chain is linked, and when one segment is affected adversely, the ripple effects extend throughout the supply chain,” the group noted in the letter.

The groups want to see hours of service exemptions expanded from farm to fork. The emergency declaration should also include transport of raw and processed agriculture commodities, animal food and feed ingredients, processed foods and food ingredients, honey bees and farm supplies throughout the supply chain working to supply the nation’s food during this crisis.

The groups cited the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s recent decision to identify the full food and agriculture supply chain as essential critical infrastructure workers that have a social responsibility to continue operations.

“One such COVID-19 contingency for which our members are preparing is a contraction in truck driver availability. As previously noted, when one part of the agricultural and food supply chain is affected adversely, the effects ripple throughout the chain. Transportation of farm inputs, such as seed and fertilizer, constitutes the critical first steps in the supply chain. Spring is the busiest time of the planting season, which this year could coincide with the escalation of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the group noted in the letter.

They said during last year’s floods when barges could not deliver the fertilizer to farmers inland, it was truck drivers that came through delivering the fertilizer longer-than-normal distances to have product available for use in the spring planting and summer growing seasons.

“The operations within the food and agricultural chain are closely linked and continuing operations require timely shipping and receiving. … We urge FMCSA to extend the hours-of-service relief to include all food and agricultural critical infrastructure operations to ensure the viability of the food distribution system,” the letter said.

The groups asked for flexibility in licensing for new restricted commercial permits and keeping washouts open for the sanitary transport of many food products as well as temporary increases in truck weight limits that some states have already approved.