SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration quietly changed the way the agency interprets parts of its agricultural exemption for truckers hauling commodities and other cargo related to farming.

The change to the agricultural exemption was explained in the first Facebook Live event for the Mid-West Truckers Association.

“They felt it was in the best interests to change the interpretation, basically through an (Electronic Logging Device Frequently Asked Questions) docket, and they notified, really, no one. It was very subtly announced that they had changed the interpretation and expanded the interpretation,” said Matt Wells, associate director of the MTA.

What changed was how and when truckers can use the agricultural exemption and how the exemption works.

“In FMCSA’s mind, agricultural exemption hauling is similar to being asleep. They count zero against your hours of service,” Wells said.

Before the change, he said, the FMCSA required truckers that go beyond a 150 air mile radius from where their commodity was picked up to log the entire trip if they go beyond that radius.

“You get 150 air miles from where you are picking up the commodity to deliver your agricultural product and be exempt from the hours of service,” he said.

The agricultural exemption from the FMCSA “applies to anyone hauling agricultural commodities or anything for the furtherance of the production of agriculture with a 150 air mile radius of the source of the commodity during harvest season in the states you are operating in,” Wells said.

Hours Of Service

The change came in August, and it extends both the workday and the driving time with the agricultural exemption.

“In August, FMCSA decided that if you are hauling agricultural commodities beyond the 150 air mile radius, you now have the ability, the entire time you are within 150 air miles of the source of your product, you will be ag exempt,” Wells said.

“Once you are carrying it beyond that 150 air mile radius, once you reach what is actually 172 land miles from the source, you now turn on your logbook or start logging.”

That allows drivers to have both a longer workday and more driving time.

“Once you turn on your logbook or start logging, you still have your entire 14-hour workday and 11 hours of driving time to operate your truck,” Wells said.

The interpretation gives drivers operating under the agricultural exemption the ability to turn their logbooks on and off according to the distance from the source of their load.

“This is the drastic change the FMCSA has done that you can now turn your logbook on and off throughout the day without affecting your daily or weekly hour limit of the logbook rules. With the ag commodity hauling beyond 150 air miles, you can turn your logbook on and off throughout the day once you come within 150 air miles of the commodity that you will be hauling. That is a huge, huge change for agricultural commodity haulers,” Wells said.

FMCSA also expanded the definition of what can be eligible for the agricultural exemption.

“They expanded it to include all livestock, bees and agricultural equipment. Essentially anything that is used for the furtherance of production of agriculture or can be sold, used, moved at a farm, at an ag retail or wholesale location will now qualify for the agricultural exemption under this new interpretation from FMCSA,” Wells said.

State By State

However, some wrinkles do remain, and those involve how different states define the seasons in which the agricultural exemption applies.

“You can cross state lines under the agricultural exemption for 150 air miles, 172 land miles, as long as each state that you are operating in is in their harvest season,” Wells said.

In Illinois and Missouri, that is year-round. Indiana is 11 months out of the year, excluding from Dec. 2 to Dec. 31.

Iowa is the most specific, having two distinct seasons, one for planting, from March 15 to June 30, and one for harvest, Oct. 4 to Dec. 2.

“Kentucky and Wisconsin both have about nine months when they operate in their agricultural planting and harvest seasons,” Wells said.

In states such as Iowa, if the driver is outside of those time frames, the agricultural exemption does not apply, he said.

Wells said MTA has a list of each state and the dates of their harvest seasons.

Livestock does qualify for the agricultural exemption, but only if the states in which it is being transported are in their harvest seasons.

“Make sure when you are hauling livestock in different states that you are in the harvest season. Each state has a different harvest season,” Wells said.

Jeannine Otto can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 211, or jotto@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Otto.

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