FMCSA: Turfgrass haulers were eligible for HOS exemption all along

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has ruled that turfgrass is considered an agricultural commodity in a decision that exempts as many as 10,000 drivers from the hours-of-service (HOS) regulation.

Ironically, the decision, scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, came in the form of a denial of Turfgrass Producers International’s (TPI) application, filed in 2018, that sought the exemption. After analyzing the law and the 47 comments filed on the TPI’s application — all in support — the agency determined that turfgrass sod is “already subject to the HOS exemption,” FMCSA stated, and therefore denied TPI’s exemption request because the issue was moot.

“This is great news — we’ve been working with the industry for three years on this,” TPI Executive Director Casey Reynolds told FreightWaves.

“We appreciate the FMCSA’s recognition of sod as a perishable agricultural commodity. This will allow our U.S. farmers to continue to get their perishable agricultural product safely to market. It will also reduce confusion among other state and federal agencies who also have long considered natural grass sod as an agricultural commodity.”

The HOS exception for the transportation of agricultural commodities and farm supplies was put in place to prevent harm to livestock and perishable commodities from required rest periods and other parts of the rule that extend transit times. Such commodities that move within a 150-air-mile radius from their source are therefore exempt from the regulation. Drivers hauling those commodities are also generally exempt from the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate under the ELD short-haul exemption.

Turfgrass farming is a roughly $1 billion business based on the value of 320,000 acres of sod, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With farms having up to seven drivers each, the FMCSA’s ruling will affect approximately 5,000 to 10,000 drivers, according to Reynolds.

“The perishability of sod is dependent on many of the same factors that impact the transportation of other agricultural commodities including temperature, desiccation, oxygen and light deprivation, increased respiration, carbon starvation, etc., all of which negatively impact the quality of turfgrass sod,” TPI wrote in its application.

If sod haulers had not been allowed to claim the HOS exemption granted to other ag products, their business would have been hurt by an inability to get their product to market in a timely manner, TPI asserted. That in turn would have resulted in a decrease in the amount of product they could ship and an increase in product that either perished or was damaged in transport.

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