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Farmers are not truckers
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By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau

Just in case you’ve been busy cutting wheat, spraying weeds, hauling feed or water to your hungry cattle or selling some of your livestock at the sale barn and you haven’t had a spare moment to hear the news – the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently released a 30-day request for public comment on a series of transportation issues directly related to production agriculture.

What the government is concerned about is the movement of commodities grown and raised on the farm/ranch. You know wheat, corn, beans, cattle and other livestock.

The first fly in the ointment I have already mentioned. Farmers and ranchers already have their hands full with planting fall crops, wheat harvest and caring for their livestock. Thirty days is not enough time for ag producers to review and contemplate the likely impacts on their operations and respond.

Farmers and ranchers are willing and able to weigh in on this important discussion, says Steve Baccus, Kansas Farm Bureau president who farms in Ottawa County.

"We’re eager to help Washington-based regulators understand that a farm truck is not an over-the-road motor carrier," Baccus says.

Sen. Pat Roberts (Kansas) is pushing for a 90-day period to allow farm and ranch families the opportunity to fully understand the potential impacts of the issues involved and to provide thoughtful and constructive comments to the agency.

Here’s the real kicker. If adopted, regulatory guidance recently published by the feds will mean farmers/stockmen moving a single cow to the local sale barn in a 16-foot trailer will fall under the same regulatory regime as Yellow Freight or J. B. Hunt.

There’s a big difference between a farmer hauling his own grain down the road a few miles to his country elevator and a trucking company transporting appliances across several states. For-profit truckers have the capital and manpower to handle these chores, farmers don’t.

"Farmers farm for a living and truckers transport products" Baccus says. "Farmers produce crops and livestock and haul them to market so people in this country and around the world have food."

Our government believes there’s lack of a uniform definition of "implements of husbandry." They further note that many states exempt tractors, combines and other farm equipment from vehicle safety regulations.

At this time the agency believes implements of husbandry and off-road agricultural equipment don’t meet the definition of a commercial motor vehicle, but officials are asking if they should.

Secondly, federal officials question whether a producer hauling commodities to market, part of which is his and part his landlord’s, should be considered "for hire."

"In Kansas, we believe if the farmer transporting the commodity also raised the commodity, it shouldn’t matter," Baccus says. "However, if the government puts farmers in the category of ‘for hire’ carriers, they would be regulated like commercial truckers."

Even more alarming is the issue of interstate versus intrastate commerce. In terms of grain and livestock movement, agriculture has long operated under the belief that hauling a farmer/rancher’s own commodities within 150 miles of the farm/ranch was exempt from regulation.

Long ago Congress distinguished agricultural transportation from commercial because it is typically seasonal in nature and occurs over relatively short distances.

This country became a global power because of its infrastructure and its ability to transport crops, livestock, automobiles and other goods fast and efficiently. Exporting U.S. crops to other parts of the world will do us no good if this nation can’t get the grain off the farm, out of the field and ultimately onto the barges and other shipping containers for transport around the world.

Kansas agriculture, and agriculture across this nation, has its work cut out for it on this transportation issue. Farmers will rapidly lose their competitive edge if they are subjected to overzealous regulation.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.