( Graphic by The Packer staff )

The implementation of Electronic Logging Data regulations and volatile truck rates combined to make trucking and transportation big issues in 2018. By the end of the year, it appears truck rates have stabilized at higher levels and that the industry is slowly adjusting to the new rules, and conceding that West Coast to East Coast trucking routes now require more transit time to account for the new rules.

June 11
Truck rule clarifies hours of service, ELDs 
By Tom Karst

In a relief to produce haulers and the industry in general, the federal government said hours-of-service rules don’t kick in until a driver goes 150 miles from the original pickup.

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on June 7 published clarifications to trucking regulations that defined when electronic logging devices should start the clock on hours-of-service deadlines.

Since a federal mandate to use the ELDs went into effect in December, questions about the 150-mile rule for ag haulers were rife in the transportation industry. The FMCSA on May 31 released two documents clarifying the rules.

After a 90-day waiver from the ELD mandate issued in March (set to expire June 18) the FMCSA released its final guidance con-taining definitions and clarifications under the 150 air-mile hours-of-service exemption for agriculture. The guidance is effective for five years.

The documents also state truckers whose clocks run out while waiting to be loaded or unloaded can use “personal conveyance” time (counted as off-duty) while seeking a place to sleep without violating the hours-of-service rules.

“It clarifies quite a bit, which we were glad to see,” said Ken Gilliland, director of international trade and transportation for Western Growers. The federal guidance also gives a broad definition of the “source” of agricultural commodities, including fields, coolers and packing sheds, Gilliland said.

Processing facilities are not considered a source; packing facilities for whole produce are, he said.

For truckers hauling whole produce, the clock won’t start while they wait to be loaded at a “source” location.  
The government’s rule clarifications come at a time of fast-rising rates for fresh produce shippers and predictions of firm rates through the summer shipping season.

Truck rates for produce loads rose more than $1,000, or up as much 25% compared with week-ago numbers for some destinations May 29 to June 5, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

USDA reported truck rates for produce shipped from Southern California to Boston rose from a range of $8,100-9,100 on May 29 to a range of $9,400-12,000 June 5.
Truck rates from Salinas, Calif., to Chicago for strawberries rose from $5,800-6,800 May 29 to $7,100 a week later.

In south Texas, the USDA reported loads sent to Atlanta rose from $3,600-4,000 on May 29 to $5,000-5,400 June 5.

Beyond seasonally increasing produce shipments, industry reports said some independent truckers pulled their rigs from the road for several days in response to the June 5-7 International Roadcheck, which is organized by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.   During that 72-hour period, inspectors throughout North America intensify inspections of vehicles and drivers, according to the group.

The date of the roadcheck is publicized in advance and some companies shut down because the heightened inspections can create delays and long lines for truckers, said Kenny Lund, vice president of operations at Allen Lund Co., La Cañada Flintridge, Calif. 

“If a trucker has a load of strawberries and is held up in line for eight hours, it screws up customer service,” he said.

March 19
Produce haulers get another 90-day logging device waiver 
By Tom Karst

Truckers hauling agricultural commodities have another three months of freedom from the Department of Transportation’s electronic logging device mandate.

The exemption won’t help truckers who haul produce one way and backhaul with non-ag goods, however.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on March 13 announced an additional 90-day temporary waiver from the electronic logging device rule for agriculture related transportation, five days before the current waiver would have expired.   The extension will push the ELD deadline for haulers of ag commodities to mid-June.

The ELD exemption for haulers of agricultural commodities isn’t that helpful to most cross-country truckers, said Kenny Lund, vice president of operations for the Allen Lund Co., La Cañada Flintridge, Calif.

“The carriers we use, we are sending (East) with produce, so they get the exemption,” Lund said. “But on the way back they are not bringing back ag commodities, so they lose their exemption,” Lund said.

The FMCSA also plans to publish final guidance on both the agricultural 150 air-mile hours-of-service exemption and personal conveyance (such as when an off-duty driver uses the truck to return home or leaves home to make a pick up).

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement that the ELD mandate lacks the necessary flexibility for hauling agricultural commodities.

“If the agriculture industry had been forced to comply by the March 18 deadline, live agricultural commodities, including plants and animals, would have been at risk of perishing before they reached their destination,” Perdue said.

The announcement was welcomed by industry advocates.

“United Fresh commends administrator Martinez for acknowledging the unique needs of the fresh produce industry and appreci-ates FMCSA’s engagement with us thus far,” Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh Produce Associ-ation, said in a statement.   Ken Gilliland, director of international trade and transportation for Western Growers, Irvine, Calif., said the industry is not ready to comply with the ELD mandate and wanted a longer exemption.

The temporary waiver for agriculture haulers will extend to June 16, he said.

If truckers are hauling fresh produce from shipping point areas, they are exempt from hours-of-service regulations within a 150-mile air radius of origin. Beyond that radius, Gilliland said the hours-of-service rules kick in. During the exemption period, carriers may use paper logs to record the hours of service.

The FMCSA said in the release it will continue outreach for assistance to the agricultural industry regarding the ELD rule.

Starting April 1, full enforcement of the ELD rule begins for those carriers who are not exempt.

Carriers that do not have an ELD when required will be placed out of service, according to the FMCSA.

Feb. 26
Produce groups seek two-year wait on electronic logs
By Tom Karst

A coalition of industry  associations has asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for a two-year exemption on electronic logging device mandate for trucks carrying agricultural commodities.

A current ELD mandate waiver, which postponed the measure for trucks carrying produce and other ag products, ends March 18.

In a letter submitted Feb. 20, the United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers, the National Potato Council, the U.S Apple Association and more than 20 other produce groups said a combination of factors have driven up transportation costs.

“With the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, driver shortages and other issues, there have been considerable increases in transportation costs for fresh produce causing devastating effects on our industry,” the letter said. “We are hearing from many of our members across multiple commodities and sectors throughout the country that shippers are having to pay two or three times, occasionally more, the normal rate for transporting their product.”

The letter said feedback from producers and trucking operations indicates many ELDs on the market are not able to accommodate the agricultural exemption that is provided under the hours-of-service regulations. Under the agricultural exemption, hours-of-service regulations do not apply to the transportation of agricultural commodities oper-ating within a 150-air mile radius of a pick-up.

“We believe that this extension would provide a reasonable period of time for FMCSA to work with the technology providers in de-veloping a program to verify that the ELDs on the market can perform the tasks that the rule mandates and allow trucks hauling agricultural commodities to fully utilize the 150-mile exemption,” according to the letter.

The coalition is asking the agency to consider hours-of-service modifications to accommodate the realities of loading and unloading fresh produce.

Feb. 12
Truck rates fall but worries remain
By Tom Karst

While some trucking leaders continue the push for a rollback of the electronic logging device mandate, a fall in truck rates has eased here-and-now problems for produce buyers and sellers.

There is still a lot of talk about the ELD mandate but rates have calmed, and grower-shippers are taking a business-as-usual ap-proach to finding transportation, said Ken Gilliland, director of international trade and transportation for Western Growers.

One truck broker in Florida, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the March 18 expiration of the exemption for produce haulers from the ELD mandate is expected to cause problems.

“Customers on the receiving end are already saying they can’t get what they want when they want it,” he said.   

Just this week, he said one truck driver had to use up nearly all his allotted 14 hours of operating time waiting to be loaded at three different Florida packinghouses, all within an hour’s driving radius.

With customers not yet willing to pay a premium for multiple picks, the truck broker was finding it hard to hire a truck for anything other than a single pickup and single drop.

U.S. truck rates have fallen sharply from January highs but remain well above year-ago levels in many districts, according to U.S. De-partment of Agriculture data.   Truck availability was adequate for most regions on Feb. 7, according to the USDA.

Rates from California’s Imperial and Coachella Valleys to New York on Feb. 7 were $7,400 to $7,500, That is down 15% from Jan. 20 numbers, but up more than 20% from the same time a year ago.

John Burton, general manager of sales for Coachella, Calif.-based Peter Rabbit Farms, said he has heard from buyers - who typically arrange trucking - that truck rates have fallen as much as 30% from January highs. “We get calls from trucking services every day from people looking for business,” he said.

For the Yakima, Wash., region, Feb. 7 truck rates to Dallas of $4,600 to $4,900 were off 20% from Jan. 20 rates and close to the range reported last year at the same time.

In South Florida, the USDA reported rates to Chicago of $2,900 to $3,100 on Feb. 7, similar to Jan. 20 and about 20% above year ago levels.

Concerns about the ELD mandate and the underlying hours of service issue persist in February, with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association still pushing for a long-term exemption for small trucking business with excellent safety records.

In early February, 25 members of Congress sent a letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asking them to support the pending application from the association for the minimum 5-year exemption.

U.S. Reps. Brian Babin, R-Texas, and Steve King, R-Iowa, and 23 other lawmakers wrote the letter.

Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said produce associations are looking to see if the ELD mandate could be smarter for the industry.   The United Fresh Produce Association’s Supply Chain Logistics Council is leading the coordinated effort.

Jan. 15
Truck group requests small business exemption for data
By Tom Karst

The Grain Valley, Mo.-based Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association has petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for a minimum five-year exemption from the electronic logging device requirements for motor carriers considered to be a small transportation trucking business.

The agency published the notice in the Federal Register Jan. 2 and the request generated more than 90 comments by Jan. 4. Comments are due by Feb. 1.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said in an news release that it is urging truckers to file comments supporting exemption for small business truckers - defined as earning $27.5 million or less per average annual receipts - from the electronic logging device mandate.

The petition seeks the exemption for small trucking carriers that do not have an “unsatisfactory” safety history or at-fault crashes to be allowed to continue to use paper logs for hours of service.

The petition comes near the beginning of a 90-day temporary waiver from the Electronic Logging Device mandate for truckers carrying agricultural products, including fresh produce. That temporary waiver period will end March 18.

There has been some confusion about how the waiver is applied.

Ken Gilliland, director of international trade and transportation for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, said the association has sought but not received clarification from the Department of Transportation on whether the waiver applies for commodities trucked from the field to the packinghouse or commodities transported across the country.

“Under the exemption, they have basically eliminated the (150-mile air radius) restriction, and I think everybody is interpreting it to mean that if you have a load of fresh produce you are at least temporarily not subject to the ELD mandate,” he said.

Gilliland said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has pledged to look at regulations that affect agriculture and consider if there is a need for continuing or expanded exemptions.