Category Archives: Government Affairs

New Trucking Bill introduced into the U.S. Congress

A new bill to tackle U.S. trucking regulations was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on January 10th, 2020. The bill, titled the “Freedom from Regulating Edible Supplies and Horticulture (FRESH) trucking act is sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL). This bill is similar to H.R. 1673 and S. 2025, which have already been introduced in the House and Senate. One notable difference in this bill for sod producers though is that it explicitly includes the term “sod” in the its language in regard to perishable agricultural commodities. The full language of the proposed bill can be found below as well as a link too Rep. Steube’s web page. TPI will continue to work on this issue impacting sod haulers to make sure that our members are included in future hours of service regulations and amendments, so be sure to watch our website and Industry Harvest e-newsletters for more information. As always, please reach out to us if you have questions or are able to help with any of these bills in your area.

 

Modification of Hours of Service Regulations

Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall amend part 395 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, to establish that, with respect to a motor carrier or driver transporting any agricultural, horticultural, or floricultural commodity (including both fresh and processed products, as well as sod and other agricultural products sensitive to temperature and climate and at the risk of perishing in transit)—

U.S. Congress Funds $3M in Turfgrass Research

With the December 20, 2019 signing of the FY20 Federal Appropriations bill by President Trump, turfgrass research conducted by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) received a significant increase.  The $3,000,000 in new funding boosted federal turfgrass research from $1,000,000 annually.

The new funding is allocated for research in turfgrass genomics, water efficient grasses and systems, and ecosystem services.  Genomics is the study, understanding and mapping of the genomes of major turfgrass species, of which very little research on these grasses has been conducted.  Understanding and mapping of genomes can lead to improved genetics, and subsequently better disease, heat, cold and drought tolerant grasses.

Research on water efficiency is critical to understanding the physiology of plants and how they respond to drought, reduced irrigation and low-quality irrigation water.  Ecosystem services refers to the contributions of turfgrass systems to the environment, society and the economy.  In other words, how does turfgrass provide benefits to the soil, water, air, human health and safety, and the economy, as well as how can those benefits be maximized.

The National Turfgrass Federation, Inc. (NTF) led the effort to obtain the funding, with significant assistance from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), Turfgrass Producers International (TPI) and other allied associations.  The 2019 National Golf Day, organized by We Are Golf (www.wearegolf.org), significantly aided the effort as the funding request was a top priority for the 150+ participants on that day.  The new funding is an excellent first step in addressing priorities of the National Turfgrass Research Initiative (NTRI), as outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The National Turfgrass Federation, Inc. (NTF) is a 501(c)6 non-profit with the mission of promoting the need for turfgrass research and its associated value to society through implementation of the National Turfgrass Research Initiative (NTRI) and its priorities.  NTRI is an industry-sponsored initiative to gain federal funding for turfgrass research, helping to solve the larger issues in the turfgrass industry.

For more information contact: Kevin Morris, National Turfgrass Federation kmorris@turfresearch.org.

The Growing Waste Problem of Synthetic Turf Fields

What happens to a synthetic turf athletic field when it’s time for replacement? You can find them sitting on vacant plots of land across the country, according to an investigation by the York Daily Record and York Sunday News publications.

“Used artificial turf is expected to produce 1 million to 4 million tons of waste in the next 10 years, and it has nowhere to go, according to solid waste industry analysts,” the journalists report.

The article discusses the difficulties of recycling or disposing of synthetic turf. The only recycling facility in the world that can fully separate the parts is in Denmark, and bringing turf to landfills is an expensive and heavy lift (literally). Due to a lack of regulation and government oversight, old turf ends up in empty lots, backyards, public spaces and private land. The crumb rubber and chemicals in turf also present potential safety and health concerns for the surrounding environment.

Kyla Bennett, science and policy director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, says the best solution is to use natural grass.

This problem highlights a consequence of using a synthetic, disposable groundcover for our athletic fields. Unlike synthetic turf, natural grass is a sustainable plant with an endless lifespan.

For more information, click Read More for the full article from the York Daily Record

National Turfgrass Federation Seeks Comments from Sod Producers on Senate Appropriations

The National Turfgrass Federation (NTF), a Beltsville, MD-based non-profit group which coordinates turf / sod research within the federal government and private industry, launched an initiative earlier this year seeking congressional funds for six Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) labs nationwide.  Aimed at federal appropriations for agriculture programs in the next fiscal year (FY2020), this initiative would address growing public demands for green landscapes requiring less maintenance, as well as research for environmental stewardship, ecosystem sustainability, and genomic sequencing for cultivars that are more drought, heat, disease, and traffic tolerant.    “This research would enhance turfgrass’s quality and affordability for consumers, while reducing maintenance costs,” says NTF Executive Director Kevin Morris. “Those benefits would directly impact appearance, utility, and multiple contributions for environmental sustainability.”   NTF’s $3 million funding request for FY20 would be allocated among six ARS labs in Georgia, Arizona, Utah, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.  These sites were selected based on best available resources and staff expertise for conducting this research.   “NTF views this approach as carving out a dedicated line item appropriation for turfgrass science,” Morris adds.  “Establishing a cooperative venture among several ARS labs and their respective regions could broaden the scope of benefits from scientific discovery and provide a collaborative research model that might be useful for future interests.”

In June 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives included NTF’s proposal in their FY20 Agriculture Appropriations measure.  The Senate agriculture appropriations panel did not follow suit.  Thus, NTF looks to a House / Senate conference in hopes an agreement can be reached that includes all or part of this proposal in a final funding bill.  Any expressions of support from turfgrass sod producers to senators and congressmen in those six states slated for ARS research — along with lawmakers representing Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Florida — would be very helpful.   “As with any research program, dividends often go beyond where money is initially allocated,” Morris says.

Covering approximately 60 million acres in the U.S, turfgrass is America’s most visible crop.  Statistics indicate it is the third largest crop in total value with estimates exceeding $60 billion annually.  Home and commercial landscapes comprise 65-70% of turfgrass acreage with roadsides, parks, sports fields, golf courses, cemeteries, airports, and sod / seed production comprising most of the remaining acreage.  Turf industries, which covers commercial & residential lawn care, golf course and sports field management, roadside maintenance, public parks, and product sales and services, employs approximately 1 million people in the U.S.   For more information on this ARS funding proposal, contact NTF’s Kevin Morris at kmorrisntep@gmail.com.

Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) Phase 3 Begins Dec 16th, 2019

As many of you know, recent changes to regulations on hours of service (HOS) and electronic logging devices (ELDs) for commercial vehicle operators have caused much confusion and concern among turfgrass sod haulers in the United States. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a Final Rule in the Federal Register in December 2015 regarding Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) and Hours of Service (HOS) Supporting Documents [Federal Register: Docket No. FMCSA-2010-0167]. In short, it states that by December 16th, 2019 all commercial motor vehicle operators are required to have electronic logging devices (ELDs) that are self-certified and registered with the FMCSA.

This new mandate incorporates the traditional HOS exemptions for hauling agricultural commodities within 150 air-miles of an owner’s farm or other source, but it has also raised the question among state and federal regulators and enforcement officers as to what exactly constitutes an agricultural commodity.

TPI has been working on this issue since Phase 2 of the new ELD mandate took effect in 2017 and is currently working three separate avenues of relief that could potentially provide a resolution. These include working directly with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on bills S.2025 and H.R. 1673. For more information on the upcoming ELD Phase 3 mandate and how TPI is working on behalf of sod producers, check out the link below and the November/December issue of Turf News magazine.

2020 Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP)

U.S. seed and sod producers wishing to participate in the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) can check with their State Farm Service Agency (FSA) office for deadlines on applying for non-insured crop disaster assistance. According to the program fact sheet published by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) “provides financial assistance to producers of non-insurable crops to protect against natural disasters that result in lower yields or crop losses, or prevents crop planting”. Of the wide range and variety of crops covered under NAP, value loss crops including but not limited to Christmas trees, ornamental nursery crops, and TURFGRASS, are all crops eligible for coverage. The established coverage period for turfgrass is October 1-September 30, 2020.

Be sure to check out future issues of Turf News magazine for a fully-detailed article on how turfgrass producers can participate in various crop insurance programs. In the meantime, to obtain additional information regarding the NAP program and insurance availability for your turfgrass operation, turfgrass producers are strongly encouraged to visit their local FSA Service Center. You can find your local service center by following this link:

https://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app

For additional information about the NAP program, producers can also follow this link to view the NAP basic provisions, fact sheets and additional documents:

https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/disaster-assistance-program/noninsured-crop-disaster-assistance/index

U.S. DOT Seeks Comments on Agricultural Commodities and Hours of Service

TheFederal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has released a public comment period for clarifying the definition of “Agricultural Commodities” with respect to Hours of Service (HOS). TPI has submitted a comment on behalf of all U.S. sod producers and has provided directions below for its members to provide public comment.

The FMCSA is accepting public comment on this issue through September 27, 2019. TPI is asking turfgrass producers in the United States to provide public comment through Regulations.gov following the instructions below:

  • Go to the following link: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FMCSA-2018-0348-0001 (Note: This page may load slowly)
  • Click “Comment Now” on the right-side of this page
  • Each submission must include the following information:
    • Agency Name: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
    • Docket #:FMCSA-2018-0348
    • Your name, address, email, and phone number.

Your participation in this comment period is vitally important to the FMCSA hearing and understanding how important it is that sod haulers be allowed to claim agriculture exemptions for hauling sod. These exemptions affect Hours of Service (HOS) and Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) for each and every sod producer in the United States. TPI has been working diligently on this issue since Phase 2 of the new ELD mandate came into effect on December 18th, 2017.

If you have questions on this issue or how to participate in the public comment process, please contact Dr. Casey Reynolds at creynolds@TurfgrassSod.org. You can also read the full Public Comment page regarding Agricultural Commodities and Hours of Service by clicking “Comment Now” below.  Thanks very much for your support of this important matter.

EPA Stands Behind Glyphosate Ruling That It Does Not Pose Cancer Risk

Original story by EPA Press Office

On August 8th, 2019 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would no longer approve product labels claiming that glyphosate causes cancer. Glyphosate has recently been in the news due to recent lawsuits in California where juries have awarded multi-million dollar lawsuits to plaintiffs claiming that glyphosate resulted in them having non-hodgkins lymphoma. This is partly due to California’s Proposition 65 which has labeled the popular herbicide as a carcinogen, which is in direct opposition to other federal agency rulings, including the EPA’s, who states that it is not a carcinogen.

“It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk. We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “It is critical that federal regulatory agencies like EPA relay to consumers accurate, scientific based information about risks that pesticides may pose to them. EPA’s notification to glyphosate registrants is an important step to ensuring the information shared with the public on a federal pesticide label is correct and not misleading.”

For more information on this story, click Read More below or check out the Sept/Oct issue of Turf News, which should be hitting TPI member mailboxes early next month.

TPI’s Exemption Request for Sod Haulers Closes with 47 Comments on Ag Commodities

A new federal mandate on Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) that came into effect in 2015 has called into question what exactly defines an agricultural commodity. From December of 2015 through December of 2017, use of ELDs was voluntary. However, in December of 2017 Phase 2 of this new law mandated the use of ELDs as well as automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) through December of 2019. After December 2019, the use of ELDs will be required for all commercial haulers except for those claiming certain exemptions. At the heart of this issue for turfgrass producers and others in the agricultural industry is the definition of “agricultural commodities” as defined in 49 C.F.R 395.2. The current definition states agricultural commodities as “any agricultural commodity, non-processed food, feed, fiber, or livestock” and its interpretation has proven vague since the new ELD mandate took effect.

As a result, TPI submitted an application for exemption to the United States Department of Transportation in December of 2018 to request that all transporters of turfgrass sod be eligible for Hours of Service (HOS) exceptions for agricultural commodities provided in U.S. Federal Code 49 C.F.R. 395.1(k)(1). This application included a public comment period that was posted to the U.S. Federal Register on June 19th, 2019. This comment period was open for 30 days and closed on July 19th, 2019. During that time, 49 turfgrass producers and other industry representatives provided public comment supporting turfgrass sod’s inclusion in the definition of an agricultural commodity. TPI also submitted a public comment on behalf of its members and cited many reasons why turfgrass sod should be granted the same exemptions as other agricultural commodities with regard to Hours of Service (HOS) and Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs). These include but are not limited to:

  • The United States Department of Agriculture includes sod in the Agricultural Census, and defines it as a horticultural commodity within the agricultural industry
  •  Title 7, Chapter 38 of the U.S. Federal Code lists turfgrass sod in its definition of Specialty Crops
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists turfgrass sod in its Worker Protection Standards
  • Many state departments of agriculture consider turfgrass sod an agricultural commodity
  • Turfgrass Sod is treated as agriculture by other federal agencies with regard to taxes, unemployment, occupational safety and health, federal wage-hour laws, and more.

TPI is awaiting the Department of Transportation’s decision and will announce it to our members when available. Please reach out to us if you have questions or comments, and we will be happy to help out.

Click on the link below to read all of the public comments in the U.S. Federal Register.