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Devil is in the details for ag exemption for hours of service

Recently there has been a lot of news published around the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s decision to file a pre-rule to seek industry input to clear up the vague definitions surrounding the Agricultural Exemption. There are major implications that are at stake in the definitions of two major terms in the exemption. First, “Agricultural Commodity” — We’re pretty sure live cattle fall under the exemption, but what about potted plants and cucumbers? Second, “Unprocessed” — the difference between fresh and frozen or chopped/diced/peeled, where’s the line for sufficiently “unprocessed” for this exemption?

So, what’s the big deal? Why is this exemption getting so much coverage?
It turns out that the agricultural industry was hit disproportionately hard by the Electronic Logging Device mandate in 2018 put on the domestic trucking sector by the federal government with soaring transportation costs and longer transit times due to a sudden shrinking of driver hour capacity. Many in the agricultural community see the Agricultural Exemption for Hours of Service as their potential release valve to help increase the hour capacity they require during planting and harvesting season when trucking prices are normally highest (the trucking community refers to planting and harvesting seasons as “produce season”).

If the Agricultural Exemption for Hours of Service is so great, why does it need to be clarified further?
There are three main stakeholders that have the most to benefit: Produce shippers (sellers), produce receivers (buyers), trucking/logistics (drivers). What’s held this exemption back from having the release valve effect that most in the agricultural community would like to see is the vagueness of its definitions. Earlier, after the ELD mandate, what constituted an agricultural commodity source was further defined, as were some of the actual mechanics of how this exemption would work in a post-ELD mandate world. Now might be the most critical time for the agricultural community as the FMCSA is opening the floor for the industry to comment on whom should be exempt (or included in the definition of an agricultural commodity). Without concrete definitions, the trucking community can’t utilize the exemption and can’t pass on the benefits to produce buyer and sellers in the form of decreased freight costs and faster service times.

So, what should the produce community do right now?
This is the most important time for the produce community right now. The definition of an agricultural commodity as it relates to this valuable exemption is now open to the public. If you have any friends in Washington., DC, it might not be a bad idea to give them a call to make sure your commodity makes the cut. After that, stay tuned.

(Jordan Strawn, chief sales officer, and Matt Castriotta, business development for ReedTMS Logistics)