After an exception to time limits for truck drivers failed to make it into an Infrastructure Bill, industry experts claim the US potato industry must turn to a 2023 Farm Bill as an alternative for swifter unloading of crop loads.
The Transportation Department regulates the number of hours a truck driver can operate, although exemptions exist for agricultural commodities that are at risk of spoiling or dying due to delays. The current exemption applies to picking up cargo. When a driver reaches the 150-air-mile radius of a distribution facility, “he’s exempted from having to shut his truck down; he can still drive to you and pick your load up,” said Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council. Some claim this exception is critical to specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables.
The $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure package (H.R. 3684) would expand the waiver to the back end of a delivery trip for livestock, applying the 150-mile radius exemption to the unloading of animals. But the back-end provision doesn’t apply to the specialty crop industry.
The House is slated to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill in September, with pledges from Democratic leaders not to change it. The window for additions to the Senate-passed infrastructure bill closed earlier this week after House Democrats agreed to a final vote on the unchanged package by Sept. 27. That decision leaves Quarles’ industry, and other agriculture producers that are looking for relief, searching for other legislative options.