The agricultural industry is able to breathe a collective sigh of relief after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) dropped its intention to regulate agricultural vehicles as commercial motor vehicles (CMV). The agency also considered requiring anyone who operates farm equipment on public roads to be subject to the Commercial Driver's License (CDL) rule.
However, in a "Regulatory Guidance" on Docket No. FMCSA-2011-0146 that FMCSA issued last week, the agency stated that "After considering comments from the public, FMCSA has determined that no further guidance is needed on interpreting interstate commerce and implements of husbandry.
"FMCSA," the notice continued, "is issuing guidance that farmers operating under share-cropping or similar arrangements are not common or contract carriers and, therefore, are eligible for the CDL exemption if a state elects to adopt the exemption."
"Farmers in New York have long known that we are the driving force of the economy in upstate New York and Long Island," says Dean Norton, New York Farm Bureau (NYFB) president. "It is refreshing to see that [Transportation secretary Ray] LaHood acknowledges the important role we play in keeping the economy moving and feeding the nation."
FMCSA posed three questions regarding the proposal during the public comment period. First, how do you distinguish between intra- and interstate commerce when a CMV is operated within the boundaries of a single state? Second, whether FMCSA should distinguish between indirect and direct compensation in deciding whether a farm vehicle driver is eligible for the exception to the CDL requirements? And third, should implements of husbandry and other farm equipment be considered CMVs?
"I am very pleased that the federal Dept. of Transportation decided not to pursue imposing onerous federal regulations on farmers whose livelihood depends on their ability to operate farm vehicles and agricultural equipment," says Sen. Susan Collins ( R-ME). "Earlier this month, I joined 21 of my colleagues in the Senate to express my concern on the unfair and expensive burden that would require farmers to obtain Commercial Driver's Licenses. All of us who grew up in Aroostook County, or live there now, have seen farmers on the side of the road driving a tractor or hauling a digger. They operate safely."
Collins, ranking member of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, says in her statement that states should use "common sense" in setting exemptions for CDLs.
"We have no intention of instituting onerous regulations on the hardworking farmers who feed our country and fuel our economy," says Ray LaHood, transportation secretary, in a statement announcing the decision.
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), which represents farm and ranch families, was quick to applaud the move.
"This public announcement and the guidance sent to states [today] by the FMCSA is great news for America's farm and ranch families," says AFBF president Bob Stallman. "The key word is common-sense, and it was refreshing to see that our federal authorities heard the concerns we expressed. It lifts a big cloud of uncertainty in farm country and the action is greatly appreciated."