Feds will not change rules governing operation of farm equipment

Posted Aug. 16, 2011, at 7:11 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Potato growers will not have to make operational changes now that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has announced that it will not propose new regulations governing the transport of agricultural products.

The safety administration had been weighing the idea of requiring farmers and ranchers who operate farm equipment on public roads to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL. The requirements for such a license would include having to acquire additional documentation, maintain health records and travel logs, and comply with driving age restrictions.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe joined a bipartisan group of senators in sending a letter earlier this month in opposition to the proposed regulations.

Collins noted in her letter that requiring farmers and ranchers to acquire a Commercial Driver’s License would be “unfair, expensive and an onerous burden for our farmers.”

“All of us who grew up in Aroostook County, or live there now, have seen farmers on the side of the road driving a tractor or hauling a digger,” Collins said in prepared statement. “They operate safely.”

Snowe said in a written statement that she was pleased the “needless” regulations had been dropped.

“The Department of Transportation seems to have gotten the message loud and clear, there is simply no room for additional needlessly onerous red tape on American businesses,” said Snowe. “Farmers nationwide have struggled to thrive in the current economic environment, and requiring a commercial license to operate agricultural vehicles on the road is as nonsensical as it is impractical.”

The rule would have prevented teenagers from operating machinery, and the physical requirements might have prevented older farmers from getting a CDL.

Don Flannery, the executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said requiring farmers to obtain CDLs would have been “quite a burden” on hardworking potato growers.

“Originally, we had great concerns about this,” he said Tuesday. “It is hard enough for farmers to find help to harvest their crops, but requiring them to find people that had CDLs to operate their equipment on public roads would have been a huge burden. We have a number of family farms in Aroostook County, and farmers have their teenage sons and daughters driving tractors to and from the fields. It has been a long tradition.”

A representative from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said the agency had received about 1,700 comments from the public regarding the issue, and the vast majority called for it to refrain from imposing new regulations.

The representative said the agency initially decided to look at the matter after some citizens expressed concern about the amount of farm equipment moving between fields and down public roadways.

“We have no intention of instituting onerous regulations on the hardworking farmers who feed our country and fuel our economy,” U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a written statement. “Farmers deserve to know that reasonable, common sense exemptions will continue to be consistently available to agricultural operations across the country, and that’s why we released this guidance.”

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