WASHINGTON — In a letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and 53 other agricultural groups on March 25 urged that the agency grant relief from federal drive time rules for all truck drivers hauling agricultural goods. 

“As trucking capacity and the availability of drivers tightens due to COVID-19, neither surge nor normal trucking capacity may be adequately available to provide the required just-in-time deliveries to animal feeding operations, food processing and manufacturing plants, distribution facilities, export facilities and retail outlets, which could result in significant food chain supply disruptions,” the groups said. 

The FMCSA previously issued an emergency declaration due to COVID-19, but that only exempted drivers delivering food to distribution and retail facilities from compliance with federal hours-of-service rules that limit drive time until at least April 12. The agency expressly included livestock in the exemption.

However, groups noted that FMCSA’s previous action was insufficient to adequately encompass the major beginning and middle segments of the food and agricultural supply chain.

“Each sector of that chain is linked, and when one segment is affected adversely, the ripple effects extend throughout the supply chain,” the groups said.

To address tightening trucking capacity and disruptions to truck transport, the groups urged the FMCSA to expand and extend the hours-of-service relief from farm-to-fork.

The NGFA and the other groups said the emergency declaration should be extended to include truck transport of raw and processed agricultural commodities, animal food and feed ingredients, processed food and food ingredients, honey bees and farm supplies (such as seed, fertilizer and other agricultural products and chemicals needed by farmers to grow crops) to adequately preserve the resiliency of the nation’s food supply during the pandemic.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently identified the full food and agricultural supply chain as essential critical infrastructure workers that have a special responsibility to continue operations, the letter noted. 

“The operations within the food and agricultural chain are closely linked, and continuing operations require timely shipping and receiving,” the groups said. “We urge FMCSA to extend the hours-of-service relief to include all food and agricultural critical infrastructure operations to ensure the viability of the food distribution system.”

The groups also requested that the FMCSA add flexibility to the process for obtaining new restricted agricultural commercial driver’s licenses, assist in keeping truck washouts open that are necessary for the sanitary transportation of many food products, and provide leadership in harmonizing the temporary increases in truck weight limits that have been announced by several states.