Infrastructure bill positive for bull haulers
Allison Rivera, executive director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said it’s important to recognize that the bill that will soon be signed by President Biden is the hard infrastructure bill. The reconciliation package, which includes social spending, is still in discussion in both chambers.
The first positive item in the infrastructure bill for agriculture producers is the funding to improve hard infrastructure.
“NCBA supported the hard infrastructure because it has funding in it for roads and bridges and all of the things we need to be in good working order for us to be able to move cattle across this country and to get beef on those grocery store shelves,” Rivera said.
Rural broadband funding is also a part of the infrastructure bill. Rivera said producers are asked to do more and more every day, and they have to be able to move at the speed of commerce and keep up with the market to be effective.
The inclusion of the backend 172 road mile/150 air mile exemption for livestock haulers under miles of service gives livestock haulers flexibility they have been asking for, something she said has been top of mind during her five-year tenure at NCBA.
“We’ve been trying to meet the need for flexibility under very onerous, one-size-fits-all hours of service rules,” she said. “The inclusion of another 172 road miles from the destination of a haul for livestock haulers is absolutely going to provide that flexibility.”
Rick Yost, owner of V-Y Trucking in Sterling, Colo., said there was previously a 150-mile exemption on the front end or point of origin, but the addition of the exemption on the destination end is a good deal. Yost, who has 10 livestock haulers on the road, said he has one particular haul from Montana to Kansas that will be able to be legally completed in a single run as a result of this exemption.
“With that being said, if you get tired, you pull over and get some sleep,” he said. “I don’t want customers to expect that — that’s running almost 1,000 miles with no sleep — and sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. If that driver needs to pull over and sleep, they should.”
In his 43 years of experience, he said he’s had more than a couple of customers frustrated when the driver is four or five hours behind after stopping for sleep, but he said no one had a wreck and the cattle were just fine when the truck arrived.
“It’s a good deal,” he said. “I don’t see any negatives to it.”
Moving forward with the the ag exemption, Rivera said NCBA will continue to work with FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) to make sure the on-the-ground enforcement agents know there is a new exemption for livestock haulers, so haulers don’t have any problem using the new exemption.
Exemptions aside, trucking hasn’t been an easy business in recent years. Yost used to run 20 trucks but, just like many employers, is having a hard time finding qualified drivers. On Wednesday morning alone, he turned down nearly 60 loads for the week.
In the past 20 days or so, he said, rates have been driven up by the high cost of diesel from about 10% to 20%. With these problems compounding an already-busy time of year, he said he’s heard of cattle waiting at the sale barn on a truck for a week, a situation he said was previously unheard of.
A new federal change to the Commercial Drivers License requirements, he said, will also make finding drivers more difficult, especially as many experienced drivers near retirement age.
“A kid who grew up on a farm hauling grain and hay with their truck will have to take a class to get his CDL,” he said. “He’ll have to spend several weeks and $5,000 or $6,000 on a class, already knowing maybe more than the teachers do because dad taught him on the farm, you know, the right way.”
Yost was part of a group that was identifying solutions to allow an agricultural exemption to the new rule, but he said the results seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
As for the social spending-heavy reconciliation package, Rivera said it is still up in the air though NCBA is keeping a close eye on it to ensure that the bill will not be paid for on the backs of farmers and ranchers.
“When you have a large spending package, there is a lot of confusion about what is in it,” she said. ‘Specifically, there has been a lot of discussion about whether or not that includes a so-called cow tax or fee for livestock emissions, and from everything we’ve seen that has not been included.”
Rivera said the House and Senate are both in recess this week, though discussions about the contents of the reconciliation package are ongoing and NCBA is closely monitoring items up for debate. There is currently no timeline for that package to see a vote of either chamber.
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