More than 10 years ago the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ((FMCSA) got together with the California Farm Bureau, the California Trucking Association, and others to review cargo control practices among agricultural haulers. The move was in response to years of complaints by agricultural drivers that standard cargo control methods were not useful for some of their loads.

After so many years of review and testing, the FMCSA has finally come up with a set of alternative cargo control methods for securing certain kinds of agricultural products being shipped in boxes, bins, and fiberglass tubs – as well as baled cotton, hay, and straw. The alternative package is being offered in combination with a five-year exemption from standard procedures, giving ag haulers enough time to thoroughly test the new methods.

Regulations Are Very Clear

Proponents of the exemption say it is necessary because of the rigid nature of federal regulations. Those regulations are very clear as to how cargo is to be controlled while en route. For example, cargo being hauled on a flatbed must be secured by a certain number of tiedown straps as determined by the size and weight of the load. The tie downs have to be positioned in a specific way.

Furthermore, drivers must use extra tie-downs if the flatbed trailer in question does not have a bulkhead fixed to the front. Blocks must also be used in certain configurations if the threat of rolling exists. Every piece of equipment used to control cargo must be in good working condition and exhibit adequate working load limits.

Mytee Products, an Ohio company that provides cargo control supplies to motor carriers and independent contractors, explains that properly tying down loads is not easy. Drivers have to know what they’re doing, both for their own safety and the safety of everyone else on the road. Failing to properly secure cargo could mean being taken out of service.

Accounting for Special Ag Needs

Combining both five-year exemption with new tiedown procedures is intended to meet the special requirements of agricultural loads. For example, the FMCSA consortium tested a different kind of blocking for the front of flatbed trailers along with an alternative lateral movement inhibitor. Both devices proved safe and effective for keeping cargo under control. Though these devices would not be appropriate outside of the agricultural industry, they do work well for unitized agricultural loads.

Accounting for special agricultural needs will make the jobs of truck drivers easier. Rather than having to try to make use of cargo control methods not suitable to their loads, drivers will be able to employ alternative methods instead. This will allow them to secure their cargo more quickly without being any less effective. That means more time spent on the road and less time working with tie-downs, blocks, etc.

Getting the Word Out

The task now is to get the word out among agricultural haulers. It has been so long since the FMCSA began working on the exemption that many haulers have simply forgotten about it. New haulers have entered the marketplace since the testing began, so they may not even know that it was going on.

At any rate, agricultural haulers now have the next five years to put the new cargo control systems through their paces. Assuming everything goes well, the exemption could be made permanent at some point in the future. It is likely federal regulators would return to the drawing board if the new cargo control methods proved not as safe or reliable as the standard methods ag haulers are now exempted from.