By Max Fisher, Director of Economics and Government Relations
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on May 31 issued a regulatory guidance clarifying the agricultural commodity exception to the hours-of-service regulations. Under the exception, agriculture haulers operating within 150 air-miles of the source of their agricultural products do not have to comply with hours-of-service regulations, including the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule. The exception applies to the transportation of non-processed food, feed, fiber, or livestock and insects and will be relied upon by many agricultural haulers after the agriculture industry’s exemption from the ELD rule expires on June 18, 2018.
The guidance clarifies a longstanding question on whether drivers hauling in and out of grain elevators are eligible to use the agricultural commodity exception, noting that a place where the commodity is aggregated and stored may be treated as a “source” from which the 150 air-mile radius is measured. Thus, an agricultural commodity may have several “sources.” For grain, both a field and a grain elevator are considered a source. However, the exception cannot be used once the commodity is processed to such an extent that it is no longer in its original form or does not otherwise meet the definition of an agricultural commodity.
The guidance also clarifies that when agricultural commodities are loaded at multiple sources during a trip only the first loading point can be considered a source.
Further, DOT explains that the exception applies to all portions of a round-trip involving agricultural commodities that occur within the 150 air-mile radius of the source, regardless of whether the truck is loaded or empty or whether the destination is outside the 150 air-mile radius. Upon crossing the 150 air-mile point, however, the driver would be subject to the hours-of-service rules for the remainder of the trip to the destination. The hours accumulated within the 150-mile radius are not counted toward the driver’s hours-of-service. Returning empty, the driver would be subject to the hours-of-service rules until returning within the 150 air-mile radius in which the trip began.
The webpage at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/ag provides resources to help with regulations applicable to agriculture and how to use an ELD when operating under an agricultural exception. Below are common questions and answers with respect to the agricultural commodity exception.
Q: Does the agricultural commodity exception apply to drivers while driving unloaded within 150 air-miles of the place where an agricultural commodity will be loaded, and to that portion of an unloaded return trip which occurs within a 150 air-mile radius of the place where the agricultural commodity was loaded?
Guidance: Yes, provided that the trip does not involve transporting any non-agricultural cargo and the sole purpose of the trip is to make a pick-up or delivery of agricultural commodities. In that case, driving and on-duty time are not limited.
Q: Does the agricultural commodity exception apply if the destination for the commodity is beyond the 150 air-mile radius from the source?
Guidance: Yes, the exception applies to transportation during the initial 150 air-miles from the source of the commodity, regardless of the distance to the final destination. Once a driver operates beyond the 150 air-mile radius of the source, the driver is then subject to the limits under the hours-of-service rules and must record those hours. Once the hours-of-service rules begin to apply on a given trip, they continue to apply for the duration of that trip, until the driver crosses back into the area within 150 air-miles of the original source of the commodities.
Q: How is the “source” of the agricultural commodities determined?
Guidance: The “source” of an agricultural commodity is the point at which an agricultural commodity is loaded onto an unladen commercial motor vehicle. The location may be any intermediate storage or handling location away from the original source at the farm or field, provided the commodity retains its original form and is not significantly changed by any processing or packing. If a driver is making multiple trips, the first trip, and the 150 air-mile exception around that source, terminate once all agricultural products are offloaded at a delivery point. A new source for a new trip may then be identified, and the 150 air-mile radius for the exception will be around that source.
For example, a sale barn where cattle are loaded may be treated as a “source,” in addition to the location at which they were raised, since cattle remain livestock. As another example, a place where heads of lettuce are stored may become a “source,” provided they retain their original form. An elevator where grain is collected and dried may be a new “source,” again assuming the grain is not milled or similarly processed at the elevator.
Q: How is the “source of the agricultural commodities” determined if the driver makes multiple pick-ups of the commodity en route to the final destination?
Guidance: When a driver loads some of an agricultural commodity at a “source” and then loads more of that commodity at additional stops, the first place where the commodity was loaded is the measuring point for the 150 air-mile radius.