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Farmers’ truck exemption may be extended under bill

Issue Date: May 11, 2022
By Kevin Hecteman

Farmers and ranchers may, under certain conditions, continue to use an exemption from a state inspection program for commercial trucks and trailers under a bill pending in the Legislature.

Assembly Bill 2415 would extend for three years an agricultural exemption, set to expire at year's end, from a state program requiring inspection of certain trucks and trailers in commercial activity.

The California Highway Patrol was due to file a report detailing effects of the exemption, such as collisions and other traffic-safety issues involving exempted vehicles, by Jan. 1. As the report has been delayed, AB 2415 seeks to postpone the exemption's expiration date—originally Jan. 1, 2023—to Jan. 1, 2026.

Katie Little, a California Farm Bureau policy advocate, said the bill would help farmers and ranchers spend more time tending to their operations. "If they're exempt, I think it would help them from having to do even more paperwork than the paperwork they're already having to do on everything else on their farms," Little said.

The Basic Inspection of Terminals program requires people operating certain vehicles commercially to identify terminals where such vehicles may be inspected and where vehicle and driver records are kept.

The program applies to motor trucks of three or more axles weighing more than 10,000 pounds; truck tractors; and trailers or semitrailers. This also includes a motor truck weighing more than 10,000 pounds and towing a trailer that, when hitched to the truck, makes the whole thing longer than 40 feet. Such a combination using a pickup weighing less than 11,500 pounds, or that is never used commercially, is excluded from the program.

The agricultural exemption applies to vehicles, whether traveling solo or towing trailers, with a gross weight of 26,000 pounds or less, as long as all of the following conditions are met: the vehicle is operated by a farmer, an employee of a farmer or a credentialed agricultural instructor at a high school, community college or university; the vehicle is used solely for agricultural operations when operating in commerce; the vehicle is not for hire; the towing vehicle's gross weight is 16,000 pounds or less; and the vehicle operates entirely within California.

When the exemption took effect in January 2017, there was concern that a farmer's ordinary, everyday pickup would be roped into the inspection regime if it exceeded 11,500 pounds in gross weight.

"We're not technically commercial," which is what BIT was built for, Little said. "It helps our members who are small family farmers and ranchers avoid another regulatory hurdle."

Farm Bureau is one of several agricultural organizations backing the bill, sponsored by the California Cattlemen's Association. The bill's author is Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale. It cleared the Assembly Transportation Committee unanimously April 26 and is now before the Appropriations Committee.

Off-road diesel engines also are on Little's radar, as the California Air Resources Board is in the early stages of drawing up Tier 5 emissions regulations.

The current top standard, Tier 4 Final, took effect in January 2014. The goal of Tier 5 is to further cut emissions of oxides of nitrogen, or NOx, and particulate matter from diesel engines that power tractors and other essential on-farm machinery.

Little said farmers certainly want to keep the air clean, but the ever-evolving regulations aren't making that easy.

"As farmers and ranchers, our membership is certainly concerned with air quality, soil quality and environmental quality," Little said. "It's not something we take lightly, but how can we keep meeting the standard if they keep moving the goalpost?"

The board held a virtual meeting last week to discuss how the testing program would work. Regulations are likely to be out for public comment in the next year or two. In the meantime, Little has questions.

"Who's creating Tier 5 tractors?" she said. "What's the payoff for these makers if we're the only ones requiring these tractors? From what I hear in these meetings, they're still selling Tier 0 tractors in the Midwest. If they could keep producing at that level, why would they need to produce a Tier 5?"

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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