Modernizing Agricultural Transportation Act: Squeaky Wheel Gets Grease

Semi trucks preparing to drop off cattle.
( Wyatt Bechtel )

Livestock groups strongly support bipartisan legislation that was reintroduced last week by Sens. John Hoeven, R-ND, and Michael Bennet, D-CO, to reform U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Hours of Service (HOS) and Electronic Logging Device (ELD) regulations. 

The Modernizing Agricultural Transportation Act would establish a working group at DOT to identify barriers to the transportation of agricultural commodities, including pigs and cattle, posed by outdated and incompatible regulations. Within one year, the group would deliver an action plan for reforms that support the continued safe, humane transportation of agricultural commodities. 

“These are important issues that impact all livestock producers,” says Michael Formica, assistant vice president and council for domestic policy at the National Pork Producers Council. 

The Modernizing Agricultural Transportation Act is supported by the National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, United States Cattlemen’s Association, Livestock Marketing Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Honey Producers Association and Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union.

The current HOS rules were created by the DOT for legitimate safety purposes, Formica says. However, they were designed around old technologies and not with shipping livestock in mind. 

“We need to do more education about livestock transportation,” he says. “We face different realities when transporting livestock. What is safe for drivers? What are the best practices for the animals?”

The proposed working group would be comprised of representatives from the transportation and agriculture industries, transportation safety representatives and the USDA. The group would explore topics such as the number of hours drivers can safely drive in a day, how rest hours interact with drive time, and more, Formica says.

“The goal of this legislation is to allow the agricultural sector to make real-world, common-sense recommendations on shipping livestock and commodities safely,” says U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-MS, a cattle rancher and former Mississippi Secretary of Agriculture. “I believe this working group will result in greater flexibility and fewer federal regulatory burdens on farmers and ranchers.”

After a report is generated from the group, the transportation secretary will have 120 days to propose regulatory changes to the HOS and ELD regulations, based on the group's findings and recommendations. 

As DOT works to reform the HOS rules, Congress has provided an exemption for livestock haulers from the ELD requirements. Formica says the goal is to have the reformed HOS rules done within a year or so.

“We’ve worked hard to secure regulatory relief under these rules, including the 150 air-mile agriculture exemption and the flexibility the FMCSA provided for all commercial drivers last fall,” Hoeven says. “Our legislation builds on these past efforts, putting the ELD rule on hold and helping ensure the DOT advances reforms that will work in the real world.”

In the meantime, Formica encourages livestock farmers to reach out to their governors and local state legislators.

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” he says. “You can make a difference by putting pressure on Congress to keep the process moving.”

The Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act bill is currently being debated in the House. The bill provides some fixes for HOS and ELD regulations such as granting flexibility for drivers to rest at any point during their trip without counting against hours of service time and extending the hours of service on-duty time maximum hour requirement from 11 hours to a minimum of 15 hours and a maximum of 18 hours of on-duty time.

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