NGFA outlines ag priorities

Organization urged lawmakers to prioritize improvements to U.S. freight transportation in transportation bill

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) urged lawmakers to prioritize improvements to U.S. freight transportation in the next surface transportation bill that are environmentally responsible and enhance the economic health of U.S. agriculture.

In a March 17 letter to each member of Congress led by NGFA and signed by dozens of agricultural producer, commodity, agribusiness, food manufacturer and food-related organizations, NGFA and the other groups noted that “Congress can achieve positive benefits for the environment while improving the economic competitiveness of the U.S. agricultural value chain.”

They said any successful surface transportation legislation should include the following crucial elements:

• Ensure rural America is not left behind in any infrastructure package. “Adequate funding, availability of programs and ranking criteria should take into account the unique needs and challenges facing rural communities and our infrastructure,” the letter stated.

• Ensure that exemptions from hours-of-service (HOS) rules provide flexibility for agricultural haulers and farm supply transporters by passing the Haulers of Agriculture and Livestock Safety (HAULS) Act.

• Provide flexibility for types of fuel use.

• Authorize a pilot program to gradually increase federal truck weight limits. Interstate highways have lower truck weight limits than many state roads, creating a barrier to economic and environmental efficiency, the letter noted.

• Establish a tolerance to account for load shifts. “Load shifts during transport can result in tickets for drivers because a portion of the truck becomes heavier than allowed under current law even though the overall truck weight is below the federal truck weight limit of 80,000 pounds,” the groups said.

• Maintain the ability for agricultural haulers to travel at posted local speed limits.

• Maintain the current level of financial responsibility for trucks. “Efforts to increase liability insurance for trucks beyond the current $750,000 level would increase freight costs with no direct safety benefit,” the letter noted.

• Ensure federal and state commercial driving license restrictions are harmonized. There are 49 U.S. states that allow 18-year-olds to obtain a CDL, but until federal law is changed, they cannot drive across state lines until they are 21. The letter recommends that Congress create a pathway for CDL holders aged 18-20 to drive across state lines by incorporating the bipartisan DRIVE Safe Act.

• Increase flexibility of “Restricted CDL” drivers in farm-related service industries to account for weather-related disruptions.

“The next surface transportation bill is an opportunity to enact policies that foster a more environmentally responsible, productive, and economically viable freight transportation system to keep America’s agricultural and manufacturing industries competitive in the world market,” the letter noted.