Regulatory grab bad for farmers
This country became a global power because of its infrastructure and its ability to transport crops, livestock, automobiles and other goods fast and efficiently. Exporting our crops to other parts of the world will do us no good if this nation can't get the grain off the farm, out of the field and ultimately onto the barges and planes for shipment around the globe.
Today, the United States finds itself with major transportation challenges in the trucking industry. Some of these challenges have resulted from increasing emphasis on safety and regulation. Now, a state regulatory agency has over interpreted the law believing it has new power over farm transportation.
In Topeka, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., there is action under way aimed at maintaining the status quo when it comes to a farmer hauling his grain in Kansas. The goal is clarification of trucking laws and regulations while defining a clear distinction between a farmer and an over-the-road trucker.
At the heart of this issue is the definition of the initial leg of the transportation of a commodity from farm to market, or when a farmer hauls his wheat, corn or milo from the harvest field to his county elevator or a terminal facility.
The standard operating procedure for years has been an exemption for agriculture from government regulations during this first leg of the journey. This initial step has been defined as intrastate commerce (within a state), and agricultural transportation has been free from most regulation.
Recently, the Kansas Corporation Commission announced its intention to regulate that first leg as interstate commerce under the theory that the grain on its way to the elevator will one day wind up in Missouri, New Jersey or China.
This interstate designation makes farmers subject to most federal trucking regulations including U.S. Department of Transportation registration and a host of safety and record-keeping requirements. In addition to one more government regulatory burden, it will also mean additional out-of-pocket expenses farmers will incur in meeting the new regulation.
"There's a huge difference between a farmer hauling his own grain down the road to his country elevator, as he's done for decades, and a trucking outfit hauling refrigerators across several states," said Steve Baccus, a grain farmer from Ottawa County, who serves as president of Kansas Farm Bureau. "For-profit trucking companies have the manpower to handle these chores. For the farmer, it's more unnecessary paperwork and more headaches."
For the most part, Congress has agreed with that statement and written laws that separated farmers from over-the-road trucking outfits. In Topeka, Kansas Farm Bureau lobbyists have opened a dialogue with Sen. Les Donovan (Wichita) and Rep. Gary Hayzlett (Lakin), respective chairs of the Senate and House Transportation Committees. The goal is an eventual statutory solution.
"We need an overall strategy aimed at reviewing, clarifying and reforming the federal rules and regs that apply to farmers and the trucks we use to transport our own commodities," Baccus said.
There is nationwide support for keeping the status quo and ensuring this first leg as intrastate commerce and exempting agricultural transportation from most regulation. At its recent annual meeting in New Orleans, the Kansas delegation succeeded in moving this issue to the top of their national farm organization's priority list.
Kansas agriculture, and agriculture across this nation, has its work cut out for it on this transportation issue. Farmers will rapidly lose their competitive edge if they are subjected to overzealous regulation.
- John Schlageck is a leading commentator on rural Kansas.