By Mary Kennedy
DTN Cash Grains Analyst
The federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) was signed into law on March 26 and includes language requested by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to clarify state authority to issue special permits for increased truck weight. Under either a "major Disaster" or "emergency," states can issue special permits for heavier trucks to deliver relief supplies, ensuring the validity of state-issued special permits. The U.S. DOT authority allows states to "increase truck weight limits on U.S. and federal interstate highways within their jurisdictions during the COVID-19 emergency."
Many states have temporarily suspended rules regarding oversized and overweight loads of food, medical supplies and other household goods, and basically any goods needed during the pandemic. Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Nebraska, Illinois, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Missouri are some of the states that allowed permitted weight changes, but many of them are not in harmony as far as weight limits. That can cause an issue for drivers who load heavy in one state but may need to cross in to a state that has different weight limits.
On March 30, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and more than 60 national agricultural groups urged each state to increase truck weight limits on highways within their jurisdiction to a "minimum harmonized weight" of 88,000 pounds.
"Increased truck weights improve the food and agriculture industry's efficiency and capacity to deliver essential food, feed and key ingredients which sustain our food supply chain," the groups said in a letter to all state governors, lieutenant governors, transportation directors and agriculture commissioners. "This will become more critical if the availability of truck drivers is impacted adversely by COVID-19," noted the letter. Here is a link to the letter: https://www.dtn.com/…
In an April 2 webinar, sponsored by the NGFA, Max Fisher, NGFA vice president of economics and government relations, provided an overview on hours of service, truck weight and licensing changes amid the challenging COVID-19 landscape. "I recommend that anyone who wants to use these higher limits to reach out to your state department of transportation to verify the products that qualify for these higher weight limits, if your state has raised them," Fisher said to the more than 900 attendees on the webinar.
"Many states already have increased truck weight limits on some or all of the highways within their state," said Fisher. "NGFA and other agricultural organizations are encouraging state governments to raise truck weight limits to a minimum of 88,000 pounds on all of the roads within their state, while respecting bridge and posted seasonal or special road and/or local limitations."
HOURS-OF-SERVICE RELIEF EMERGENCY DECLARATION
The NGFA also noted that for first time ever at the national level and through at least April 12, U.S. DOT has waived hours-of-service (HOS) rules for drivers transporting "essential items" for the pandemic relief effort, noted the NGFA during the webinar.
-- Some examples of essential items are all medical supplies, supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, fuel and food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking.
-- Drivers do not need an official document to use the waiver for the pandemic relief effort.
-- U.S. DOT has specifically listed livestock, animal feed and fertilizer as eligible for HOS relief because they are "precursor" to "essential items," i.e., food. However, pet food is listed as ineligible.
-- Note: drivers transporting agricultural commodities, such as grain and feed, but not including processed products, already were exempt from HOS rules as long as they are within 150 air miles of the origin of the load.
On the issue of pet food being ineligible for the HOS relief, Fisher noted that, "One would think that if fertilizers are considered a precursor to food, and feed is considered a precursor to food that grain would be as well. Unfortunately, that's a bit of a gray area and we've asked USDA if they would be willing to reach out to U.S. DOT to get that clarified, but U.S. DOT still has not."
In addition, the NGFA, along with multiple food and ag groups, wrote a letter on March 25 to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) noting that the HOS relief was insufficient to adequately encompass the major beginning and middle segments of the food and agricultural supply chain. "Our members already are experiencing a tightening in trucking capacity and disruptions in truck transport in certain states and regions given state-imposed restrictions related to COVID-19. To address this situation, we strongly urge you to expand and extend the HOS 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."
The letter went on to note that food processers, animal feeding and pet food operations require a steady supply of raw and processed agricultural commodities, animal food and feed ingredients, and they often are not located within 150-air miles of their shipping point. "Further, U.S. agricultural exports, and by extension the agriculture supply chain, depend upon the ability to efficiently transport agricultural products (food, farm, fiber) to international maritime export gateways, by truck, either to seaports or to rail ramps, both often well in excess of 150 miles from the origin farms, storage or processing facilities," added the NGFA.
"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." Here is a link to the NGFA March 25 letter: https://www.dtn.com/…
With all of the changes taking place recently, Fisher added, "A good business practice is to check with your state DOT on changes to the trucking rules during COVID-19."
The NGFA has dedicated space on their website for all COVID-19 industry resources: https://imis.ngfa.org/…
Mary Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn
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