Whether you’re hauling calves to the sale barn, grain from the local elevator or hay from a distant field, the busy summer and fall seasons bring risks and a heightened need for safety on the road.

 With that in mind, the Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference of the American Trucking Associations has released a guide to help farmers and ranchers, and their hired help, comply with regulations and improve safety during peak times of production. Titled “The Manager’s Guide to Safe Trucking during Agricultural Planting and Harvest Season,” the document provides educational resources and practical safe-trucking strategies. It is available online for free download.

“Promoting safety is important in all agricultural operations but especially critical in the case of truck driving,” says Russell Laird, AFTC’s executive director. “Our members are glad to share their expertise and best practices with the whole agricultural industry to give them practical strategies they can implement to help improve safety.”

The guide focuses on active strategies for hiring decisions, communicating with drivers, and monitoring and managing fatigue.

Generally, the guide notes, truck drivers are limited to a maximum of 11 driving hours per day under federal law, which are recorded in a log book that must be presented to a law enforcement officer upon request. However, during planting and harvest seasons, exemptions to these rules are given to motor carriers hauling agricultural products in certain parts of the country. “Agricultural seasons often do not comply with exact schedules,” Laird says. “Weather determines when and how fast you move, so farmers need work flexibility.”

The guide outlines the hours of service exemption and its limitations as it applies to agricultural producers. For example:

  • It applies only to the transport of farm supplies to a farm during planting season, agricultural commodities going from a field to the first point of processing during harvest season, or livestock and livestock feed.
  • Planting and harvest seasons are defined by each state according to local conditions.
  • It is limited to a 100-air-mile radius.

AFTC notes that the exemption is not a blanket federal exemption for all agricultural operations and reminds producers to check with their state for any specific unique provisions regarding intrastate transportation. The guide includes an appendix listing state-by-state regulations that apply to agricultural transport, including contact information for regulatory agencies in each state.

Consider the first limitation listed above to determine whether each load of cargo qualifies to operate within the exemption. According to the guide, for example, livestock feed hauled from a processing plant to a warehouse for storage would not qualify for the exemption. Livestock feed hauled to a cattle feedlot for animal consumption, however, would qualify.

Trucking professionals at AFTC note that the agricultural exemption for motor carriers is critical to production around the country. If eliminated, transportation for agriculture would become more difficult, more costly and perhaps less safe.

Imposing hours of service restrictions during planting and harvest seasons could force the use of more temporary and possibly less-experienced drivers. The measures outlined in the manager’s guide can help the agricultural industry maintain the flexibility that is essential while achieving the safety results all desire.