Farm-friendly amendments added to Senate transportation bill

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2012 -Amendments adopted Tuesday during Senate debate on the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill would provide exemptions sought by some ag groups to ease restrictions on farm vehicles.Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., pushed through an amendment to exempt farm vehicle drivers from permitting issues that would hinder them while driving across state lines, including a requirement to obtain a commercial driver's license.

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Another amendment, this one from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., would continue an “hours of service” exemption for agricultural truck drivers during planting and harvesting seasons.

Sen.Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a co-sponsor of both amendments and citing the imperative that the nation's farms must continue to safely produce an abundant food supply, said the measures will provide “many farmers with regulatory relief that will improve their operations and lower costs.”

“Transportation laws and regulations should not saddle farmers with additional regulatory hurdles simply because they farm closer to a processor in another state than a processor in their own state,” said National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson. “Farmers who transport the product outside the state should be exempted from some regulatory burdens, just like other farmers who don't live near state borders.”

A vehicle that exceeds 26,001 pounds is subject to federal permitting requirements. Not all states currently exempt farm vehicles, so “merely crossing state lines can trigger conflicting requirements for some farmers who are doing nothing more than hauling their own crop,” according to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

“This is a common sense solution to allow farmers to get their food from the farm to the depot,” Merkley said on the Senate floor.

Klobuchar's amendment also had widespread support among agricultural groups, including AFBF and NFU, and faced no opposition on the Senate floor Tuesday night. The amendment clarifies the hours of service exemption first enacted in 1995, when it waived regulations for agricultural operations transporting commodities or farm supplies. The exemption, however, is only available during planting and harvesting seasons, limited to 100 miles from the source.

“[We] were pleased to see the Senate approve two commonsense amendments that differentiate agriculture from commercial transportation,” said National Cattlemen's Beef Association Associate Director of Legislative Affairs Kent Bacus. In addition to the amendments approved Tuesday, an amendment from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., approved last week would reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 for one year. The principal program under the act “has been successful in securing a stable source of funding for rural schools, police, roads, libraries and other critical county services,” according to the Farm Bureau. The Senate will continue votes on the transportation bill this morning.


Original story printed in March 14, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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