First it was the Environmental Protection Agency talking about regulating dust from farm fields. Now, it’s the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) considering forcing farmers to have a Commercial Driver License (CDL) to operate farm machinery on roads. This includes tractors.

Until some ag groups intervened, the DOT was ready to subject farmers to new trucker-style safety rules. If that isn’t bad enough, the real kicker is the agency was preparing to do it with little or no notice.

The ag groups managed to get more than a dozen senators involved to forestall the strict new rules. At this point, all they’re asking for is an extension to the public comment period on a series of proposed new guidelines on farm vehicles that govern long-haul truckers.

Why would DOT even consider this? Because highway safety advocates say  the rules governing commercial vehicles should be tightened. In the July 2011 edition of the Roll Call newspaper, Steve Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, is quoted as saying, farmers “do operate big trucks and share the road with other people.”

Elizabeth Jones, director of Congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, counters, "Tractors don't get on the interstate; they don't carry passengers."

According to Roll Call, farmers driving on public roads have been exempted from certain commercial vehicle regulations during planting and harvest seasons for trips of 100 miles or less. Drivers of these farm vehicles do not need to obtain commercial driver's licenses, carry medical documents showing they are fit to drive or limit their hours on the road as commercial drivers do.

Among other questions, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Admin.’s (FMCSA) Anne Ferro is considering whether farmers who drive across state lines or share a portion of their crops with a landlord should enjoy the vehicle safety exemptions.

Now ask yourself, “What on this green earth does sharing a portion of your crops have to do with vehicle safety?”

So, when the additional costs of controlling field dust and obtaining CDLs is added into the rising cost of food, where will the finger of blame be pointed? You got it! Right at the farmers and the rest of agriculture. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

In any case, Ferro has agreed to extend the public comment period to August 1. So, if you’re concerned, you’ve got about two weeks to drop her a note.