US: Coronavirus prompts demands for changes to feed, grain transport rules

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Henadzi Pechan
© GettyImages/Henadzi Pechan

Related tags NGFA covid-19 Coronavirus

The US National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) is seeking clarity and flexibility in federal transportation regulations for feed, feed ingredient, grain and agricultural products to support producers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The association, along with multiple agricultural and food organizations, made the request for additional elasticity in transport rules on Wednesday [March 25] in a letter​ to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

“We strongly urge you to expand and extend the hours-of-service relief from farm-to-fork, specifically by including raw and processed agricultural commodities, animal food and feed ingredients, processed food and food ingredients, honey bees and farm supplies to adequately preserve the resiliency of our nation’s food supply during the pandemic,”​ wrote the NGFA. 

FMCSA had already released an initial emergency declaration​ that temporarily exempted drivers transporting food or livestock to distribution and retail facilities from having to abide by federal hours-of-service rules following the declaration of a nationwide emergency. The shift was intended to address “emergency conditions that create a need for immediate transportation of essential supplies, equipment and persons.."

However, the earlier relief failed to specifically address the entirety of the agriculture supply chain including feed ingredients and grains, said Max Fisher, VP of economics and government relations, NGFA. “Our intention was to capture the rest.”

“We’re trying to follow up with FMCSA so that, for the most part, the full food and ag supply chain is included,”​ he told FeedNavigator.

Although not all companies involved in the feed and agricultural supply chain have seen challenges with moving products and ingredients by truck at this time, several have already reported issues, he said. It is also unclear what changes could occur to the transit system as the disease progresses.

“We’re trying to do everything in our power to help increase trucking capacity overall,”​ he added.

Flexibility for complete feed, raw material transport 

Additional information​ released by FMCSA clarified that feed was included in the initial statement as it is considered a precursor to essential items, according to agency information.

The request for leeway to the standard regulations that govern truck-based transport of feed and agricultural products is also seeking flexibility to move some products further, said Fisher.

Typically, exemptions to the hours-of-service regulation occur when raw agricultural products, like grain or feed, are being moved 150 air miles or less, he said. However, it does not address processed products like soybean meal.

“What we were trying to make sure that the full food and agricultural supply chain qualifies … and we are trying to make it so they’re not limited to 150 air miles,”​ he said. “Trucking routes have changed as a result of COVID 19 there are more routes going to grocery stores and distribution centers – it’s caused trucking companies to have to reroute trucks and they are sometimes coming in from longer distances.

“It’s nuanced what our ask was and kind of builds off what we already had and just trying to make sure that the supply chain continues as best as possible,”​ he added.

Easing of regulations

The organizations are also seeking assistance regarding the issuance of restricted agricultural commercial driver’s licenses. The shift would allow for additional drivers to be added without some of the required alcohol and drug testing – as medical facilities are involved in work with “essential and emergency patients rather than non-essential services.”

“For example, if pre-employment drug tests are unavailable, allow employers to use reasonable suspicion to remove the driver from a safety-sensitive position and require the pre-employment drug test to be performed when testing resources become available,”​ they added.

They also asked that truck washout facilities be maintained during the COVID-19 outbreak as sanitary transportation is a “paramount concern”​ and some facilities have stopped operations.

“Further, we urge FMCSA to play a central role in communicating with state departments of transportation about the need to harmonize truck weight limits for the benefit of interstate commerce,” ​the group said in the letter. “The COVID-19 response by many states to temporarily increase their truck weight limits is necessary and appreciated and will help ameliorate a portion of the loss in trucking capacity. But further benefits could be captured through a coordinated effort.”

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