Beef business faces petition wars

A herd of horned Herefords graze on Colorado grass.

If Dave Dudley were still around writing trucker songs, his current hit would be “12 Hours on the Road — and I’m a gonna shut ‘er down right here.”

Imagine driving down the road and the GPS on your smartphone says it is 26 miles to the stockyard. You’re almost there after 12 hours behind the wheel. Yeah, almost there, but the rule says you can’t take those 100 steers behind you to the chute just yet. You have been on the road 12 hours, and that is it, until after you take a 10-hour break. So, the customer’s steers will spend 10 or 11 more hours standing in the trailer. Of course, if you were two states over, you could go for it because their laws allow a bit of leeway during harvest time.

Livestock haulers, and everybody else in the business of hauling ag products from milk to pinto beans, anywhere in the US have long been at the mercy of antiquated rules of service (engagement), not to mention a patchwork of state laws governing ag transport. The tangle leaves drivers and dispatchers always wondering which rule they might have to follow when they pick a transport route. Enter Republican senator from Nebraska, Deb Fischer, who has introduced what she calls the “Haulers of Agriculture and Livestock (HAULS) Act.”

The senator, who is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and chairman of the Sub-Committee on Transportation and Safety, says: “Ag and livestock haulers are essential to ensuring Nebraska food and fuel make it across the country. Their vital work has been further highlighted by their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud to introduce the HAULS Act, which builds on my previous work to ensure ag and livestock haulers can continue feeding our nation.”

Her words could be echoed in Colorado and many other states that face the same issues.

According to the National Farm Bureau, which took on the mantle of early champion of the bill that doesn’t even have a Senate bill number yet, the HAULS Act would make three important incremental changes to the agricultural exemption to hours-of-service rules. Rules of service are the regulations that govern how much time a driver can remain in service without a break of at least ten hours. Various states have enacted their own rules that provide a break for people hauling ag commodities or livestock.

Zandon Bray, who partners with his father on the sprawling Bray Ranch in west Montrose County, sees the new bill as a win-win.

“The HAULS Act is very good for we cattle ranchers. It allows us to transport our livestock in a safe and timely manner, which is crucial for the health of the animals. I think that COVID highlighted the importance of a strong supply chain and the HAULS Act supports that. It’s a good deal for agriculture,” said Bray, who is also the Montrose County rep. to the Colorado Farm Bureau.

The HAULS Act would eliminate the “planting and harvesting periods” requirements in food chain hauling to ensure uniformity in enforcement across the country. Most states already have adopted a year-round agricultural exemption (Jan. 1 – Dec. 31) for truckers’ rules of service, to accommodate the diverse range of crops and modern agricultural practices that keep trucks moving agricultural products year-round, according to the Farm Bureau.

Much of the stock hauling from Western Colorado reaches for distant destinations that in many cases are just outside the 12-hour work-day limit. The new law also would allow livestock haulers 150 extra (airline) miles that would be exempt from service regulations on the back end of hauls. Essentially this allows extra time to deliver livestock while negotiating minimally maintained rural roads, such as many found in western Colorado.

The Farm Bureau and other groups that would like to see the measure succeed, has said that this language also would address the very real concern of those who come close to their destinations and then “run out of time,” forcing them to leave livestock on their trailers. This is “impractical, illogical, and detrimental to animal welfare,” the Farm Bureau said. The bill was just released late last week and is gathering support.

The third job of the act is to update the definition of agricultural commodity for the purposes of determining eligible freight for the exemptions that the act seeks to establish. The suggested definition from the bill’s author appropriately covers all current agricultural products and allows for continued evolution of any agricultural commodities in the future.

The bill, written by the Nebraska senator herself, is blessedly short. Read it at https://bit.ly/3j2HBz0.

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