Sometimes, livestock must stay in the truck for ten extra hours to wait for the driver’s mandatory sleep break – even if their destination is 60 miles away. Reps. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) and Angie Craig (D-MN) want to change this. They have introduced a bipartisan bill, the Responsible & Efficient Agriculture Destination Act, in the House.
Smucker understands farmers and ranchers' concerns, having been born and raised on a family-owned Amish farm in Pennsylvania. Smucker was one of 12 children.
“I have heard from numerous farmers and producers in my district that find it difficult to operate their businesses because of onerous transportation regulations that do not consider the unique nature of agriculture goods,” Smucker wrote in an email. “The introduction of this bill is important because the current transportation regulations do not account for the perishable goods our farmers bring to market.”
Truckers who drive livestock and perishables are restricted in their hours on the road. Currently, they must drive no more than 11 consecutive hours, except during harvest, when the hours lengthen a bit. But livestock trucks must transport pigs, cows and milk year-round; not just during harvest and planting season.
The TREAD Act extends the transportation hours for livestock truck drivers by increasing the hours on the backend of hauls. Each trucker can finish the route, after driving 11 hours, if they are within 150 miles as a crow flies of their destination.
Michael Sherow runs a feedlot, Sherow Cattle Company, in Langdon. He is glad something is being done for the livestock drivers who transport his cattle, but he says it is not enough.
“It would sure be better than what we have now,” Sherow said. “I’m for anything to help the truckers.”
According to Smucker, this bill will reduce costly obstacles that limit farmers’ ability to bring their products to consumers in a timely manner, and it will make reasonable adjustments to transportation rules.
Because truckers cannot drive more than 11 consecutive hours, they often do not take many stops. Sometimes dirt roads, traffic or an accident might delay the truck. If this happens, the driver would not make his/her destination and must find a place to unload the cattle.
“There are not facilities everywhere to unload,” said Steve Hilker, who owns Hilker Trucking in Cimarron. “You lose ability to track a disease.”
And in the case of pigs and chickens, they must stay on the truck. Because of their fragile cargo, truck drivers must possess husbandry skills. Hilker said it is hard to find drivers.
“The livestock hauler has a living, breathing commodity,” he said. “This job is not for everyone.”
Hilker is also the transportation committee chairman of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. He, like Sherow, is pleased with an increase in hours, but he said the industry needs more changes. He thinks the Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act would solve several more problems. The bill would give the truckers a minimum of 15 hours and a maximum of 18. They would still be allotted the 10-hour sleep minimum.
“We need to be able to split up the ten hours sleep,” Hilker said. “If he (the driver) needs a little catnap, he can take it. Right now, the law punishes him for taking it.”
Although Hilker would like to see the TLAAS Act approved, he is pleased with the TREAD Act being championed. According to Smucker, the TREAD act provides flexibility and promotes animal safety. It is supported by the American Beekeeping Federation, the American Sheep Industry Association, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, the United States Cattleman’s Association, the National Milk Producers Association and more than 20 other national agricultural agencies.
Hilker said our representatives in congress need to support bills like this one. “There’s not enough of us out here in rural America.”