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Proposed rule on farms called ‘absurd’

A new rule being proposed by the federal Department of Transportation would require farmers to get commercial drivers licenses.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is a part of DOT, wants to adopt standards that would reclassify all farm vehicles and implements as Commercial Motor Vehicles, officials said. Likewise, the proposal, if adopted, would require all farmers and everyone on the farm who operates any of the equipment to obtain a CDL, they added.

The proposed rule change would mean that anyone who drives a tractor or operates any piece of motorized farming equipment would be required to pass the same tests and complete the same detailed forms and logs required of semi-tractor trailer drivers.

Drivers would keep logs of information including hours worked and miles traveled. Vehicles would be required to display DOT numbers. A CDL in Virginia costs $64 for eight years, or $8 per year, not including the cost of an instructional class and the written test.

If the DOT reclassifies farm vehicles and implements as commercial vehicles, the federal government will have regulatory control over the nation’s farm workers, estimated at over 800,000, by requiring them to have commercial drivers licenses.

That possibility worries county farmers and others in Halifax County interested in agriculture.

“I have a CDL, but very few farmers have one,” said Nathalie farmer Ronnie Waller. “This is just another bureaucratic hurdle for the farmer.

“It’s hard enough fighting Mother Nature, insects and all…now we have to fight the federal government,” he added. “We’re getting more rammed down our throats, and I could see repercussions across the nation. This move is another inane gesture in my opinion,” Waller concluded.

Bruce Pearce, Halifax County Soil and Water Conservation district manager, agrees with Waller.

“It’s absurd, we’re being regulated out of business,” Pearce said. “I can see where you need to take precautions if you take these things on the interstate.”

Pearce said driving a tractor on a road is not like driving a semi-tractor trailer on the highway.

“If it passes, there will be a lot of citations written,” he said. “It’ll create a financial burden on the farmer.

“Many farm workers are migrant workers, and they don’t have drivers licenses,” he said.

“If this thing passes, it would be detrimental to the agriculture business,” said Jason Fisher, Halifax County Extension agent for Forestry and Natural Resources. “They’re going to get a bigger fight from other places.

“It would be stifling to agriculture,” he said. “For the producers here, we’re looking to do things to help them maintain their farms. CDLs would mean additional costs to the farmers.”

Scott Crowder, Halifax County Farm Bureau president, agrees with Fisher.

“I think it’s absurd,” he said. “It’s just more federal bureaucracy and another infringement on small business.”

Crowder said farm tractors and other machinery on county roads is a common sight in most rural areas.

“When you live in a rural community seeing farm equipment on the road is just something that’s a part of life,” he said. “If this thing passes, it will create more strain on small business, and that’s what farmers are. It will affect their bottom line. Call your congressman and senators,” he concluded.