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POLICY WATCH

New Federal Hours of Service Rules Released

This week, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a final rule updating hours of service (HOS) rules providing some much-needed updates to existing regulations for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers. The new hours of service rule will have an implementation date of 120 days after publication in the Federal Register. While the new rule does not include everything Farm Bureau or Nebraska’s Congressional Delegation has been pushing for the past few years, the new rule does make some needed improvements to current law. FMCSA’s final rule on hours of service offers four key revisions to the existing HOS rules:

  • The Agency will increase flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after 8 hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
  • The Agency will modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split—with neither period counting against the driver’s 14 hour driving window.
  • The Agency will modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
  • The Agency will change the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

The decision to increase the air-mile radius to 150 miles is particularly important for agricultural products that are ineligible for the agricultural exemption to the hours-of-service rules, such as processed products like soybean meal, distillers grains, and flour.

USDA Announces Final Biotech Rule

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced a final rule updating and modernizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) biotechnology regulations under the Plant Protection Act. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is announcing a final rule for the regulations concerning the introduction (importation, interstate movement, or release into the environment) of certain genetically engineered (GE) organisms. Previously, APHIS published proposed rules in 2008 and 2017 for potential changes to the regulations but withdrew both rules in response to public comments and to reengage in a fresh dialogue with stakeholders on the regulation of biotechnology. The American Farm Bureau Federation has worked closely with the USDA and other industry stakeholders to develop the final rule and supports its adoption. The Sustainable, Ecological, Consistent, Uniform, Responsible, Efficient (SECURE) rule will bring USDA’s plant biotechnology regulations into the 21st century by removing duplicative and antiquated processes in order to facilitate the development and availability of these technologies through a transparent, consistent, science-based, and risk-proportionate regulatory system. This new rule will help provide America’s farmers access to these critical tools to help increase agricultural productivity and sustainability, improve the nutritional value and quality of crops, combat pests and diseases, and enhance food safety. The new rule’s provisions will become effective on key dates over the next 18 months.

Food & Agriculture in the HEROES Act

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to tear through the U.S. economy, the U.S. House of Representatives has released the text of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) Act. AFBF Economist Michael Nepveux takes a closer look at the proposal and its farm and food policy provisions.

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This Week’s Drought Monitor

Abnormally dry conditions continued to spread across Southern Nebraska this week according the U.S. Drought Monitor map released May 14.

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