BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration may have issued a national emergency declaration that exempts trucks and drivers hauling supplies critical to the coronavirus effort, that declaration doesn’t include all agriculture and farm trucks.
“Currently, the exemption from Hours of Service issued by FMCSA does not necessarily apply to all of agriculture,” said Kirby Wagner, assistant director of transportation and infrastructure for Illinois Farm Bureau.
Wagner led a series of “Rules for the Road” seminars across the state recently to educate and update farmers and ag haulers on transportation law and updates to those laws and regulations.
On March 13, the FMCSA issued a national emergency declaration that exempts trucks and drivers hauling emergency supplies critical to coronavirus mitigation efforts from the federal Hours of Service regulations.
The FMCSA expanded that declaration on March 18. According to the Livestock Marketing Association, the FMCSA expanded declaration includes livestock haulers.
Drivers who are hauling under the expanded declaration are being advised to print out a copy of the expanded declaration and keep it in their trucks.
In the U.S. Department of Transportation FMCSA Frequently Asked Questions page, “Are livestock a covered commodity (under the expanded declaration), the FMCSA responded: “Yes. Livestock are covered as a precursor to food. The emergency declaration covers ‘immediate precursor raw materials such as paper, plastic or alcohol that are required and to be used for the manufacture of items’ including food needed for the emergency restocking of stores.”
Wagner said that doesn’t include all livestock movement.
“They’ve said they are going to allow certain livestock movements. The general day-to-day operations are not included,” he said.
In addition, the exemption from Hours of Service does not cover all of agriculture.
“There is a definition called ‘direct assistance’ and that is very specific. It means transportation or other relief services provided by a motor carrier to the immediate restoration of essential services, like electricity, medical care, sewer/water or essential supplies like food and fuel. If you are just hauling feed to the feedlot or something that’s in a normal operation, that is not exempt,” Wagner said.
One definition that could become important later is the Department of Homeland Security’s inclusion of agriculture as “essential, critical infrastructure.”
“That designation is going to be a lot more key down the road. We wanted agriculture to be deemed critical. It needs to continue. We want to make sure that farmers are continuing their operations and being prepared in the event that things get a little shaky. That designation could come in handy down the road where we are having sticky situations where we are short on feed or other types of products,” Wagner said.
Even without the federal Hours of Service exemption, Wagner said he is reminding ag haulers and farm truckers in Illinois that they do have other exemptions.
“We are reminding them of current exemptions that are offered to agriculture, which a lot of Illinois farmers operate under. We are reinforcing the current exemptions and watching to see what goes forward,” Wagner said.
In addition, with the approach of spring and planting season, Wagner said he also is reminding truckers about weight limits.
“Weight limits apply to everyone. Right now, the ground is thawing out so the road system is a little more sensitive to heavy movement across it. Our big thing is for truckers to be aware of those road postings and bridge postings out there,” Wagner said.
The March 13 FMCSA National Emergency Declaration: www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/us-department-transportation-issues-national-emergency-declaration-commercial-vehicles.
The March 18 FMCSA Expanded National Emergency Declaration: www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/us-department-transportation-expands-national-emergency-declaration-commercial-vehicles.
The USDOT FMCSA Frequently Asked Questions that includes livestock as a covered commodity, via the Livestock Marketing Association: https://lmaweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/FMCSA_FAQs_HOS_ED_3-19-2020.pdf.