Obama Administration retreats on requiring CDLs for farmers

Aug. 15, 2011
America’s Heartland spoke out in support of farmers, and the Obama Administration backed down

America’s Heartland spoke out in support of farmers, and the Obama Administration backed down.

In one of the worst examples of regulatory overreach by the Obama Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had announced earlier this year that it was considering regulating agricultural equipment as commercial vehicles. The agency also suggested that it might require anyone operating farm equipment on public roads to obtain a commercial driver license (CDL) and be subject to the CDL requirements (perhaps including hazmat endorsements and background checks for those handling ammonia nurse tanks).

FMCSA posed three questions in regulatory proposal published May 31: First, should the movement of farm products be defined as interstate commerce? Second, should share-croppers be classified common or contract carriers? Third, should FMCSA issue new guidance on implements of husbandry?

The proposals brought a swift and fiery response from the farming community and their elected representatives in Washington DC. FMCSA received about 1,700 comments on the notice, many of them pointing that FMCSA’s proposed rules could severely damage the agricultural industry, family-owned farms, and small businesses in farming communities.

Sen Susan Collins (R-ME) was among those speaking out against the FMCSA proposal. “I am very pleased that the Department of Transportation decided not to pursue imposing onerous federal regulations on farmers whose livelihood depends on their ability to operate farm vehicles and agricultural equipment," says Sen Collins. "Earlier this month, I joined 21 of my colleagues in the Senate to express my concern on the unfair and expensive burden that would require farmers to obtain Commercial Driver's Licenses. All of us who grew up in Aroostook County, or live there now, have seen farmers on the side of the road driving a tractor or hauling a digger. They operate safely."

In their about-face, FMCSA officials stated in the August 15 Federal Register that commenters “misinterpreted” FMCSA’s request for input on whether it needed to provide additional guidance on interstate versus intrastate commerce. FMCSA officials went on to state that the agency “is sensitive to the critical role agriculture plays in our economy and farmers in our communities…These comments have helped us better understand the complexity of farm lease arrangements and today’s use of farm equipment on public roads.”

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.