Will America Pay the Price for a New Mandate?

I’ve hesitated to share what’s been going on (and what entirely has consumed me)  the past few weeks (going on months now) because this isn’t a place where I typically discuss politics or policy as it relates to the world of agriculture. Once upon a time I did, but I feel like we are surrounded by so much negativity, that I decided this was going to be a positive place where I’d share the beauty that surrounds me. And in all honesty, most of you come here for the photos anyway (you know, when I post them – call me a slacker if you want)! But I can’t let this sit any longer. I’ve written an op-ed on the situation —  it was not my best work, because despite 5 weeks of research I still didn’t fully understand what the… what the.

Since then I’ve written other bits and pieces, including a four page letter that I sent to staffers in both my Senator’s offices as well as a staffer for my House Rep. I now know more about Motor Carriers and Commercial Driver’s Licenses than I ever thought I’d know. No, I’m not a truck driver, but…The Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate brought to light MANY inconsistencies where regulation of the trucking industry is concerned. Average, non-truck-driving-citizens read the mandate; mass confusion ensued, and rightly so, since we are NOT in the trucking industry. Suddenly, people that don’t drive “trucks” discovered that they should have kept log books (which now means an ELD – in some cases) and many should have Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs) and or DOT numbers –simply based on rules that state, if you drive and pull a trailer, and might win $3 you’re in commerce; hence a commercial driver.

I have tried to write something here, to kick start this discussion, but I’ve struggled for so long to figure out where best to start that I figured I’d let my new friend, CJ take the reins, and get this party started.

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An Open Letter to Federal Lawmakers and Their Respective Staffers and Aides,

~By C.J. Garland

As a rural Kansas resident, a diehard voter, taxpayer, and an honest, hard-working, small business owner, I feel compelled to express my growing concern about the negative effects the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) Mandate, Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) classifications, and Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)  requirements have on the Agriculture and Livestock Industries. As you may know, the extension for the Agriculture exemption of the ELD Mandate expires mid-March so the below issues are incredibly time sensitive.

My hope is, that by sharing our personal situation and perspective as an example, you will see how wide sweeping and far-reaching these rules and regulations are, thus giving you some hopeful, thought provocation to the yet unforeseen costs to all American farms, ranches, and citizens.  As lawmakers, you have the power to bring about some needed change.  If these laws and mandates are not modernized yet are enforced, it will have a devastating effect not only on tens of thousands of small agricultural businesses, but millions of consumers as well as rural Americans and the lives they love.  Thank you in advance for your time and attention to these issues. Enjoy!

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We are 3rd generation cattle ranchers  and horse breeders  in Western KS, close to the borders of 3 other states.  My husband and I both work 80 hours a week keeping them both alive.  Due to our extreme rurality, we cannot avoid the amount of travel involved to run both businesses in a cost-effective and profitable way.  This traveling, it seems, causes us to be mislabeled a Commercial Driver who needs to comply with many unknown regulations including the ELD Mandate. I’ve learned that these regulations were not new, they’d just not been enforced until the ELD Mandate recently brought them to light.

eld mandate, america will pay the price, cdl laws

 

A large part of the problem is the archaic and arbitrary nature of several regulations and their classifications.  One concerns the outdated threshold which requires a CDL to run a personal truck and trailer over a certain weight threshold. It is a lynchpin in the entire situation. When written (in 1986) the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) threshold of 26,001 for requiring a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) purposely excluded most everyone that did not drive a big semi-truck. Now, due to safety, quality and improvements by vehicle manufacturers, most regular ¾ or 1-ton pickup trucks, towing medium-sized trailers are over the 26001 combined GVWR.  Thresholds like these need to be updated to reflect the true intent of those laws and keep pace with vehicle and trailer improvements.  We as farmers, ranchers, horse owners and breeders, livestock show participants, 4-H parents, and the like are not commercial drivers, nor should our activities, whether for our livelihood or as a hobby, be governed by laws that were clearly written to govern a wholly separate industry. Additionally, all Ag should be permanently exempt from the ELD Mandate.  The harm it will do to the farming and livestock industries cannot yet be quantified.

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How did our ranch operation fall under these rules, regulations, and mandates to begin with?

During the regular course of everyday operations, we shop around for the feed, parts, supplies, and services we need to run our family ranch businesses in the most economical way possible.  In today’s competitive market, it is important to get the absolute most for your money – that’s Business 101.   This includes leaving our local area for the goods and services needed.  The distances we must travel are not within our control.  Not all ranch business trips are problematic about current regulations. But, when the trip involves a combination of these numbers; 150, 26001, and 8/30, our circumstances change.

Finding high quality services and attending certain horse shows are an part of our horse breeding business.  Unfortunately, these important horse hauling trips usually involve leaving the Map 21 Ag-Exempt 150 air mile radius — which makes that specific trip no longer ag exempt. Without our ag exemption, we are now put in the same class as a For Hire Commercial Trucker. One hundred and fifty air miles is such a strange and arbitrary number, especially in this day and age. Who came up with this distance? And why?  Did they have any knowledge of rural America and the needs of livestock owners? Does the purpose of the trip somehow change at that distance?  Are we no longer on ranch business?  It feels odd to be told how far we can haul our own animals in the course of our operation and still remain ag exempt.  Keep in mind, we do not get paid to sit behind the steering wheel, we do not make any money for the act of driving, and we are only hauling our own property, not the property of others. 

Doing away with the bizarre and arbitrary 150 air mile radius to protect all the rural farmers and ranchers is the right thing to do for American agriculture.  A level playing field for all Ag businesses should be a priority.   As it stands now, once we hit this imaginary brick-wall-150 air mile radius, we are no longer considered a rancher and horse breeder; we magically become a Commercial, Over-The-Road-Trucker  and are treated as such.  We are required to have a CDL, are considered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to be driving a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV), will be forced to keep log books, adhere to Hours Of Service (HOS) rules, get medical cards, DOT #’s, pull into weigh stations, submit to annual vehicle inspections , and soon the devastating ELD Mandate.  From a business perspective, this is alarming.  The cost of running our business to the best of our ability just went up by thousands of dollars. Why? What is so different about how we operate outside the radius vs. inside the radius that would cause the extreme change in regulations?

Easy, the extreme change in regulations is due to the size of the rig we haul our livestock with.  To be clear, this change in regulation category has nothing to do with the actual horses; we could have any other kind of livestock or supplies in that trailer.  I suppose you expect that since we are being swept up in this issue that we travel in a big semi-truck with a large trailer?  No, we haul our horses with our 1 ton dually pickup truck and a 2000 model year 4 Horse LQ Horse Trailer with a combined GVWR of 27,000.  For us, the rig size over 26001 GVWR, plus being outside the 150 air mile radius categorizes us as a Commercial Motor Vehicle vs Ag Exempt.  It’s the lynchpin I talk about above. 

I implore you to do some research. 

When the requirements for CDLs were written in the 1980s, what was the average GVWR for a dually pickup?  Was the intent of this requirement meant to include this size pickup? Clearly not!  Why does it include us now?  In 1986 the GVWR of a one ton dually was 8500 lbs.  Today, that same pickup has a GVWR of 14,000 lbs.  That is a 65% increase in GVWR. Being mislabeled a CMV because we lost our Map 21 Ag Exemption at the end of the arbitrary radius because we have a GVWR 1000 over the archaic limit set in the 1980s puts an undo strain on our business — as well as the thousands of rural agriculture businesses like ours.  Keep in mind, our neighbor, who earns his living the same way we do is COMPLETELY exempt from all of this (no 150 air mile radius issue, does not need a CDL, won’t be a CMV, no log books) as the GVWR on his truck and trailer is 25,500 so he never loses his Map 21 Ag Exemption.  In fact, he can drive coast to coast in his rig and remain ag exempt.  Our business activities are no different than our neighbor or any other farmer, rancher, or livestock owner that owns a slightly smaller rig or has their needed services closer.  Why are we treated differently? Why do our same actions lump us into a category in which we clearly don’t belong?  Are we not still the rural, middle America, hardworking rancher and horse breeder?  I say yes!  Yes, we are still those people.

Without the needed modernization and clarification of the CDL, CMV, and other FMCSA rules pertaining to ag exemption and definitions of commerce, most livestock owners find themselves mislabeled, over regulated, and at the mercy of arbitrary and archaic thresholds. At this point, our only hope at keeping the overly intrusive ELD unit out of our pickup truck is the 8/30 rule. 

eld mandate, america will pay the price, cdl laws

 

After calling the Kansas Corporation Commission for clarification, as the rules were easy to misinterpret, I finally was able to get a concrete answer to how the 8 days out of a rolling 30 are counted.  Some of our non-exempt trips are just day trips (vet, trainer, farrier). Other trips, like to horse shows, are 2-8 days in length but the only driving is there and back, with “off duty” days in the middle, at the show location.  Since these “off duty” days don’t count, we may travel close to but hopefully never over the 8 allowed days pulling horses with the “too big rig”.  This means we can stay on paper log books vs the ELD (but will still have to comply with the rest of the above list).    The reason it was so hard to figure out what days count and what days don’t, is that there is no real language that gives definitive answers. After all, these regulations were written to govern For Hire Commercial Truckers.

Clear rules and definitions are important  because like many farmers, ranchers, and livestock owners, our dually pickup has many ranch purposes.  For example, buying livestock feed: normally the dually pickup would pull the lighter flatbed vs one of the heavier horse or stock trailers for this errand, but in bad weather that will change.  So, if because it’s raining, I use our stock trailer, or the 4-horse trailer to go get livestock feed at a store 151 air miles away, will that day count toward my 8?  Yes, it does.  If I use the same rig to go 190 air miles to pick up a new bull, that counts too. What about if we use the rig to run a ranch errand while at a show?  Since those errands are ranch business outside the 150 air mile radius I was worried they counted too, but they don’t (counts as a Short-Haul).  Confused yet?  Me too! Don’t you think rural life and making a living are already hard enough for farmers, ranchers, and other livestock business people without trying to stay off the 8/30 ELD exemption merry-go-round?

Let’s imagine we can’t stay exempt and the ELD is installed in the dually pick up.  Now, every time the truck and trailer leave the 150 air mile radius, it is potentially subject to ELD mandates.  Most day trips (vet, trainer) are less than 14 total hours outside the radius, so would  not require a 10-hour shutdown.  However, we may not be so lucky when returning from longer trips. What if for some reason, (weather, traffic, flat tire, sick horse, and so on) we can’t get back into our radius (feeling more and more like a jail everyday) in the 14-hour operating window?  We are now forced, literally, a few hours from home, to find a safe place to park (with a trailer load of horses) to sit for the 10-hour shutdown.  Safe places are often hard,  if not impossible, to find on rural highways.  Also, the horses have already been traveling long enough. It is cruel and unnecessary to make them wait an additional 10 hours to get home.  This causes a lot of concern for the safety and security of me, the  truck, the trailer,  and the animals.  Wondering why we don’t just switch drivers and keep going?  The ELD Mandate doesn’t care that we have 2 qualified drivers in the pickup. We must adhere to the 11 driving hours in a 14-hour period, then a mandatory 10-hour shutdown.  Why?  We don’t have a sleeping berth in our pickup…. Just more proof these rules and regulations were not intended or written for us.

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Agriculture is Agriculture.  Ag exemption should mean exempt — not mostly, sort of, or sometimes exempt.  Farmers, ranchers, and livestock owners who do not get paid for the act of hauling are not commercial drivers. We do not get paid to sit behind the steering wheel.  We are using our trucks and trailers to go to work, no different than if we wore suits and drove a Subaru to the office.  Some of us are lucky, living in more populated areas, so don’t have to drive as much as others, but we are all doing the same work regardless of the miles we must travel to get the jobs done. Therefore, we should all be and stay grouped together under the governing laws. Not divided by the slightly more rural locations and the slightly higher GVWR of our rigs.

Animal Welfare, Safety, & the other REAL costs of the ELD Mandate:

Obviously the top ELD Mandate concerns for the entire livestock industry are the Hours Of Service (HOS) and the 10-hour mandatory shutdown time.  These rules are terrible for animal welfare, there is no debating that fact.  I encourage you to read an article from Protect The Harvest, it covers the animal welfare issue very well.  Please review it.  http://protecttheharvest.com/2017/12/11/giant-step-back-animal-welfare-eld-mandate/  

Private livestock owners care deeply for the livestock we haul and would never put our animal’s safety at risk by not resting when we need to. We are some of the safest and most courteous drivers on the road, as we also have the lives of our most valued possessions depending on us.   Being forced to stop in some strange place and leave them standing on a trailer for 10 hours is very stressful and potentially dangerous for both them and us.  Unloading and putting them in a strange and potentially unsafe environment to sit and wait for 10 hours is not a better option. Biosecurity and physical injury due to “wait” facilities being built and run by less than knowledgeable personnel are primary concerns.  The lack of infrastructure to ensure our property and livestock safety will likely cause theft to be a growing concern.  A pickup truck needs no special training to operate. 

On a more personal note, I must also express concern for driver safety.  Imagine yourself (or your daughter) in this situation: dark, weird truck stop parking area, sitting in a much lower to the ground pickup truck (compared to the semis around you — who also have to use ELDs) that anyone can see into; woman traveling alone, and no matter what, stuck there for 10 hours of shutdown time or facing large fines.  If it was you, would you get much rest? Me neither.  Solve the problem by planning and having a stopping point that is set up ahead of time, you say?  Is there a way to tell the ELD that due to the terrible weather, traffic, a flat tire, or other time waster I need to break the 11 hours of driving rule because I am still 100 miles from my planned stop?  This is not the answer and the fines associated with breaking the rules are very high.  No one should ever have to choose between the safety of their animals,their property, or themselves, less they face steep fines. Especially considering they aren’t a commercial driver and have been mislabeled as such.

What about the true commercial livestock haulers – [those truckers that are for hire, who also have to run an ELD in their truck]?

It surprises me that animal welfare was not taken into serious consideration when instituting the ELD Mandate originally.  Obviously the mandatory 10 hour shut down time and HOS rules do not work and should not be enforced on any livestock haulers as you can see from the examples referenced above. The ELD Mandate will force livestock haulers to put the animals under their control in dangerous and stressful situations to adhere to the HOS rules.   There is no question more education should be mandatory for lawmakers concerning this subject. 

What will the American people think when they are traveling with their families this summer and pull into rest stops only to see 2-3 large semi livestock haulers sitting there for a forced 10 hour shut-down,  while their loads of cattle, pigs, bees, etc. cook in the trailers.  If it’s 90 degrees outside, imagine the temperature  inside the trailer.  Usually, enforcement of laws like these come down to the almighty dollar. So to put it in common “cents” terms, to prevent the above situation, the government will need to spend billions of taxpayer dollars.  Without a federally funded infrastructure of safe and bio-secure “wait stations” designed to safely house all species of livestock, or a permanent Agriculture exemption from the ELD and an adjustment in HOS, there is a largely ignored consequence to the American public. It boggles my mind trying to quantify how much food prices at grocery stores will increase.  Total hauling costs will at least double, more likely triple; there is already a shortage of qualified livestock haulers (and truck drivers in general) and this will ONLY worsen with the mandate and the inflexibility of the current HOS.  The harder it gets for all of us to make a living, while feeding America.  There will also be the added costs for livestock death and ruined produce (and the lawsuits that will stem from these losses).   When all these additional expenses trickle down to grocery store prices, every single American will be affected.  Consumer goods prices have already climbed steadily partially due to the ELD Mandate in other market segments.

What about the cost to Food Producers?

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least briefly mention what this entire situation does to the original farmer and livestock producer, after all, I am one.  Everything that has been talked about thus far — i.e. needing to update ag exemption rules, CGVWR limits triggering the need for a CDL, transportation and commerce laws, and the needed blanket ag exemption from the ELD Mandate obviously effects all food producers straight across the board, regardless of business size or location.  These laws should not dictate our everyday business decisions.  If I need a load of cattle feed bales and I can save precious operating dollars by purchasing it outside the 150 air mile jail,  by hauling it myself with a greater than, 26,001 CGVWR pickup and trailer, I should be free and clear to do that.  It makes my bottom line healthier and is Smart Business.  I should not be penalized and mislabeled by this action.

Now, to address the true cost — the cost that hits rural American agriculture the hardest.  We work hard all year, put time, energy, and money into the crops and livestock  we produce.  Sale time comes around and then what?  Sales prices have plummeted, our buyers are often the middlemen that are paying the national haulers. They now won’t pay as much for our cattle or produce, because their hauling costs just doubled.   

Agriculture is one of, if not the largest employer in the country.  As a lawmaker, we elect you and look to you to make common sense, fiscally responsible decisions concerning the laws that govern the agriculture and livestock sectors.  I have laid out a several ways you can help the entire spectrum — from farm to table, pasture to plate — with a few simple changes.  Eliminate the ag exemption air mile radius and update the CDL CGVWR thresholds to account for today’s world.  This will give all agriculture-related businesses a level playing field and  help us keep our costs low.  Exempt all agriculture and livestock businesses from the ELD Mandate — regardless of business size, travel distances, and commercial status, to keep food prices, hauling prices, and federal spending on the livestock infrastructure as low as possible.

In closing, thank you for taking the time to read this letter.  I hope the points and situations I laid out piqued your interest and concern as much as they did mine.   It seems like an awfully good time for a law and regulation update!  If you wish to talk further, I will make myself available, and hopefully not because I’m sitting on the side of the road worrying about the safety of my horses in the trailer, waiting for my mandatory shutdown time to expire. I am also happy to join state and national level focus groups on the topic and have a CV available on request. #UpdateB4Mandate #nocdltodriveapickupandtrailer #eldorme #NOTforhire #SayNoToCDL

Thank you,

C. J. Garland

Email: cjgarland@hotmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/groups/580112742380794/

Twitter:@cjgarland78

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  1. Check its 90 miles just between the borders of our Wyoming ranching operations, not to mention any trips to the Arizona properties

  2. Pingback: The FMCSA, The ELD Mandate and CDL Laws - The South Dakota Cowgirl