Farmers seeking flexibility when transporting livestock
“That’s what I like to explain to lawmakers,” said Allison Cooke, executive director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. She recently spoke about animal transportation issues at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Animal Agriculture Advisory Committee meeting.
In March, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced a 90-day temporary waiver for agriculture-related transportation from the federal electronic logging device rule. During the 90-day period, the group will publish final guidance on both the agricultural 150 air-mile hours-of-service exemption and personal conveyance.
Cooke said the NCBA, in collaboration with the American Farm Bureau Federation and other livestock groups, worked with Congress to maintain language in the omnibus spending bill to extend the logging device exemption for livestock drivers until Sept. 30.
Also part of the rule is a requirement over hours of service by truck drivers. Virginia farmers bearing the state-issued farm vehicle tag and transporting agricultural commodities within a 150-air mile radius from their farms are exempt from the HOS rule. However, if they are driving their cattle from Virginia to Kansas, the rules apply.
“We are concerned about getting cattle and other livestock where they need to go,” Cooke explained. “Farmers transporting live animals can’t just pull over on the side of the road once they’ve reached a certain number of hours of drive time. Animals get upset when the trucks stop for extended periods of time and they can’t abide sudden temperature changes, she said.
“On the East Coast, cattle don’t stay here. They leave Virginia and a majority go west to be fed and finished,” explained Margaret Ann Smith, owner of Southlex Cattle Company in Lexington. “This will hit farmers in the pocketbook. It will impact my bottom line as a cattle buyer and impact my family’s bottom line as cattle producers.”
The rules will make it difficult for East Coast cattle producers to market their cattle out of state, Smith continued. She said it’s imperative to get lawmakers to understand that.
“We have to educate our lawmakers about how cattle get transported,” Cooke noted. “If the ELDs and HOS continue to cause issues, cattle and hogs in the Southeast won’t be hauled and sold in the Midwest because of the cost to transport them.”
The reason the FMCSA restricts driving hours is to maintain safety. However, Cooke said, the livestock industry has a “stellar” safety record, and farmers are concerned about the welfare of the animals they are transporting.