FMCSA ag hauler rule to take effect Dec. 9

November 24, 2020

Mark Schremmer


A rule clarifying agricultural definitions in the hours-of-service regulations will take effect on Dec. 9.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Tuesday, Nov. 24, published an interim final rule in the Federal Register to make clear which agricultural loads qualify for hours-of-service exemptions.

Under current regulations, drivers transporting agricultural commodities, including livestock, from the source of the commodities to a location within 150 air miles of the source, during harvest and planting seasons, are exempt from the hours-of-service requirements. In addition, the hours-of-service requirement for a 30-minute rest break does not apply to drivers transporting livestock in interstate commerce while the livestock are on the commercial motor vehicle.

FMCSA’s new rule clarifies the definitions of “any agricultural commodity,” “livestock,” and “nonprocessed food.”

As part of the clarification, “any agricultural commodity” includes horticultural products as risk of perishing or degrading in quality during transport. That includes plants, sod, flowers, shrubs, ornamentals, seedlings, live trees, and Christmas trees.

The “livestock” definition now will include insects and all other living animals cultivated, grown, or raised for commercial purposes, including aquatic animals.

“Nonprocessed foods” include fresh fruits, vegetables and cereal and oilseed crops that have been minimally processed by cleaning, cooling, trimming, cutting, chopping, shucking, bagging, or packaging to facilitate transport by commercial motor vehicle.

According to FMCSA, the changes were prompted by indications that the current definitions were difficult to understand and enforced inconsistently.

Back in July 2019, FMCSA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on the topic. The agency received 145 comments. Many of the comments came from agricultural associations supporting efforts to provide clarity to the definitions. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association also submitted comments supporting moves to harmonize the definitions with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

After an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, the typical next steps is for an agency to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking. However, FMCSA believed it received enough information to move forward with an interim final rule.

According to the Federal Register an interim final rule is defined as:

When an agency finds that it has good cause to issue a final rule without first publishing a proposed rule, it often characterizes the rule as an “interim final rule,” or “interim rule.” This type of rule becomes effective immediately upon publication. In most cases, the agency stipulates that it will alter the interim rule if warranted by public comments. If the agency decides not to make changes to the interim rule, it generally will publish a brief final rule in the Federal Register confirming that decision.

Although the interim final rule goes into effect Dec. 9, FMCSA will receive comments on the notice until Dec. 24. Those comments may be submitted to the website by using Docket No. FMCSA-2018-0348.  LL

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.