Montana farmers and ranchers who move their own cattle or hire truckers are keeping a close watch on the Farm-Bureau backed ELD (Electronic Logging Device) Extension Act of 2017 (H.R. 3282).  That recently introduced bill would provide a two-year delay to the problematic ELD mandate for certain drivers, set to go into affect December 18. That extra time would allow stakeholders to work with Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) to address numerous unresolved issues.

The Hahn Ranch in Townsend trucks their own cattle and hay, and hires commercial drivers to get their commodities moved. “We’ve always kept paper logbooks because you do need to keep track of hours of service,” notes ranch owner Dusty Hahn. “However, there is going to be a cost associated with ELDs, and there is a question of which platform the government will use for tracking those hours. I assume some of them will run off cell phones, but programs could cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars and there is a lot of uncertainty about it.”

While most farmers and ranchers should be exempt because they can claim covered farm vehicle status, drivers who haul livestock, live fish and insects are likely to fall under the requirements. Drivers who have to use ELDs would be limited to current hours of service rules, which restrict a driver to only 14 “on duty” hours, with no more than 11 active driving hours. Once a driver hits those maximum hour allotments, he must stop and rest for 10 consecutive hours, which would be problematic when transporting livestock and other live animals.

“This creates a problem. For example, you have eight cattle trucks in Terry that are going to truck cattle from a ranch 25 miles north of town,” says the Broadwater County Farm Bureau member. “What the government agency people don’t understand is the trucks wait to have someone lead them out to the ranch. Then the cattle need to be brought in and sorted. Only then can you start loading the trucks. There are some situations that arise that by the time all of the trucks are loaded, you’ve run out of hours. Keep in mind you can run out of hours with or without an ELD, but hours of service are a problem in agricultural transportation that should be reviewed.”

Cattle can’t wait on a truck for the hours while a driver stops to comply, and insects such as bees need to get to the destination in a timely manner. Hahn added that having to unload animals en route to their destination could be detrimental to the livestock.

Peter McPherson, McPherson Farms, trucks cattle out of Hamilton and expresses similar concerns about hours of service. “Even trucking 2.5 hours to Lincoln and then having three hours to possibly unload and then reload with different animals—you can reach those 14 hours even if you didn’t go far. Sleeping in the truck for a few hours doesn’t count as rest. Personally, I think these hours of service restrictions and ELDs will slow everything down and you will see freight rates skyrocket.”

In a letter to the H.R. 3282 bill sponsor, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), American Farm Bureau Zippy Duvall explained a delay to discuss the ELD and hours of service “is very necessary to adequately account for costs, allay technology concerns, minimize impacts to livestock and other live animals under our members’ care and allow for the proper training to ensure uniform compliance and enforcement.”