A bipartisan bill to provide more flexibility to haulers of agricultural commodities and livestock was reintroduced in the Senate on March 18.
The Haulers of Agriculture and Livestock Safety (HAULS) Act was introduced by Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
The bill would add a 150-air mile exemption from drive-time requirements on the back end of hauls for transporting livestock or agricultural commodities. It would also eliminate the requirement that exemptions from hours-of-service rules only apply during state-designated planting and harvest seasons.
Current hours-of-service requirements allow for 11 hours of drive time and 14 hours of on-duty time followed by 10 hours of rest.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has long pushed for greater flexibility for livestock haulers, contending one-size-fits-all regulations don’t work when hauling live animals. Truckers say a livestock hauler can’t just pull of the road and park his load for 10 hours.
NCBA member Margaret Ann Smith, owner of Southlex Cattle Co., Glasgow, Va., said her feeder cattle and cattle procurement business ships cattle to 22 states.
“The HAULS Act will give us some more flexibility to handle a perishable live commodity,” she said during the latest “Beltway Beef” podcast.
Her operation buys cattle in the Mid-Atlantic states and ships them to western states — 1,000 to 1,200 miles. Storms or other events could happen on the road to change where the drivers are going to unload cattle, she said.
The cattle might be only 50 or 60 miles from the destination, but under current rules the driver might have to stop if he’s out of time, she said.
“That’s not feasible when you just need another hour to get the cattle unloaded, rather than waiting for 10 hours to get the cattle unloaded,” she said.
It becomes an animal welfare issue. The right thing to do is allow the driver to go another hour or hour and a half, she said.
Livestock drivers have been working under the hours-of-service exemptions during the pandemic for the last 14 to 15 months, getting animals down the road safely and in a timely manner, she said.
The HAULS Act would make the exemptions permanent and allow haulers to do what’s right for themselves and the animal, she said.
“Our haulers are very, very special and very unique and have a different skill set than a freight hauler,” she said.
They have to be trained and certified in things such as animal handling and the Beef Quality Assurance program, she said.
“They have to have those certifications in order to be able to haul. And they know what they’re doing to make sure that animal gets there safely,” she said.
There are also logistical issues. There are not a lot of places to safely and reliably unload cattle along the journey or get them back on the truck after 10 hours, she said.
“So there’s a lot of components that just don’t work logistically for us as an industry because it is a live animal,” she said.