In a letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the National Grain & Feed Assn. and 53 other agricultural groups urged the agency to grant relief from federal drive time rules for all truck drivers hauling agricultural goods.
“As trucking capacity and the availability of drivers tightens due to COVID-19, neither surge nor normal trucking capacity may be adequately available to provide the required just-in-time deliveries to animal feeding operations, food processing and manufacturing plants, distribution facilities, export facilities and retail outlets, which could result in significant food chain supply disruptions,” the groups said.
The agency previously issued an emergency declaration due to COVID-19, but that only exempted drivers delivering food to distribution and retail facilities from compliance with federal hours-of-service rules that limit drive time until at least April 12. The agency expressly included livestock in the exemption. However, the letter notes that FMCSA’s previous action “was insufficient to adequately encompass the major beginning and middle segments of the food and agricultural supply chain. ... Each sector of that chain is linked, and when one segment is affected adversely, the ripple effects extend throughout the supply chain.”
To address tightening trucking capacity and disruptions to truck transportation, the groups urged FMCSA “to expand and extend the hours-of-service relief from farm to fork.”
The agricultural groups said the emergency declaration should be extended to include truck transport of raw and processed agricultural commodities, animal food and feed ingredients, processed food and ingredients, honeybees and farm supplies (such as seed, fertilizer and other agricultural products and chemicals farmers need to grow crops) in order “to adequately preserve the resiliency of our nation’s food supply during the pandemic.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently identified the full food and agricultural supply chain as "essential" critical infrastructure that has a special responsibility to continue operations, the letter noted.
“The operations within the food and agricultural chain are closely linked, and continuing operations requires timely shipping and receiving. … We urge FMCSA to extend the hours-of-service relief to include all food and agricultural critical infrastructure operations to ensure the viability of the food distribution system,” the groups stated.
The groups also requested that FMCSA add flexibility to the process for obtaining new restricted agricultural commercial driver’s licenses, assist in keeping open truck washouts that are necessary for the sanitary transportation of many food products and provide leadership in harmonizing the temporary increases in truck weight limits that have been announced by several states.