On Thursday, November 19, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released a highly-anticipated interim final rule on agricultural commodity and livestock definitions.
Background on the interim final rule
Drivers transporting agricultural commodities have been exempt from Hours of Service (HOS) requirements during each state’s harvesting and planting seasons if they are within a 150-air-mile radius from their home base. Drivers have also been exempt from the required 30-minute rest break rule if they are transporting livestock in interstate commerce. The interim final rule lays out clear definitions of what qualifies as livestock and agricultural commodities.
The U.S. Department of Transportation worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to clarify the previous rulemaking’s ambiguity around definitions of agricultural commodities and livestock. These clarifications will impact two major groups: 1) those who qualify for the exemption but were not taking advantage because they were unsure if they qualified; and 2) those who mistakenly believed they qualified for the exemption and were thereby at risk of compliance violations.
The rule, which was published to the Federal Register on November 24, includes a 30-day comment period set to expire on December 24, 2020. The FMCSA will consider the comments listed and address them in the final rule set to follow the interim rule.
The U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue expressed their enthusiasm for the interim final rule and reaffirmed their commitment to American farmers and agricultural drivers.
Agricultural commodity definitions
The FMCSA has clarified the following on what constitutes an agricultural commodity:
- Horticultural products that are subject to perishability or significant degradation in product quality during commercial motor vehicle transport
- Plants, including sod, flowers, seedlings, shrubs, and Christmas trees
Products that don’t risk perishability, like timber, do not fall under the agricultural commodity definition.
Non-processed food and livestock definitions
The FMCSA also clarified that non-processed foods include fruits, vegetables, cereal, and oilseed crops that have been minimally processed. Jarred, canned, dried, and frozen products do not fall under this category and are therefore not eligible for the exemption.
Finally, the agency clarified its definition of livestock encompasses all living animals and animals cultivated, grown, or raised for commercial purposes, such as aquatic animals. The previous definition included cattle, elk, reindeer, bison, horses, deer, sheep, goats, swine, poultry, llamas, alpacas, live fish, crawfish, and other foundation herd or offspring animals.
I have simply highlighted some of the content of the interim final rule. It is important to read the notice as published in the Federal Register to obtain a complete understanding of how you and your operations may be impacted.