By Raheem Williams and David Roberts
Food production and transportation are fundamental to North Dakota’s economy. We rely on agricultural trucking to carry our products to consumers abroad and to import produce and other products for our grocery shelves. North Dakota’s northern, landlocked location makes the trucking industry a vital partner for both producers and consumers across the state.
That is why all North Dakotans should take notice of a newly proposed trucking regulation. The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) has granted agricultural industries a 90-day waiver on the new, congressionally-mandated use of electronic logging devices (ELDs). These devices are used to track drivers’ compliance with driving time and resting regulations.
Federal ELD requirements limit truckers to 11 hours of driving followed by 10 hours of rest. Thanks to the waiver, this rule has not been enforced for transporting agricultural commodities. The FMCSA is currently accepting public feedback on the implementation of this rule for agricultural haulers.
How would this rule impact North Dakota?
The aim of this regulation is to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities caused by sleep deprivation. While this is a noble intention, applying the rule to commercial ag transport creates serious economic and food quality concerns.
Consider North Dakota’s livestock producers. Livestock often travel to packing plants and feedlots in states like Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa. ELD requirements could create unsanitary and inhumane travel conditions for animals as drivers are forced to spend more time stopped. Additionally, the clock starts ticking as soon as drivers leave the company lot, and it can take hours to simply pick up animals and load the trucks.
Beyond our state’s producers, this rule would also have consequences for consumers. North Dakota already struggles to provide fresh produce at an affordable price; tropical fruits such as bananas and kiwis begin decaying within days of harvest, even with refrigerated trucking. Increasing the transport time for imported products risks eroding the quality of produce sold in northern states like North Dakota.
Road safety for truckers and all vehicles continues to improve, and it is unclear how much these regulations would reduce driving fatalities. Moreover, the ELD mandate pits big business against small business. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association estimates this rule will add $2 billion in compliance costs, striking a big blow to small owner-operators in our state.
It is unclear how exactly market participants would respond to this mandate, but some of the possible effects include higher food prices, lower food quality, decreased profits in the agricultural and transportation sectors and inhumane animal treatment. The costs of this rule for producers and consumers outweigh any potential benefit. This rule is bad for the nation, and it is bad for North Dakota.
This op-ed appeared in Farm & Ranch Guide and the Williston Herald.
The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of any agencies he/she is employed by or affiliated with.