Category Archives: Government Affairs

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.

Senate Bill Introduced to Clarify Ag Commodities

Senator David Perdue (R-GA) recently introduced U.S. Senate Bill S. 2025, titled The Agricultural Trucking Relief Act of 2019. This is a companion bill to the one introduced in the U.S. Congress and currently has bipartisan support from nine co-sponsors from Oregon, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. If passed, this bill would clarify the definition of agricultural commodities used by the U.S. Department of Transportation to include:

  • agricultural, aquacultural, horticultural, and floricultural commodities; fruits, vegetables, any non-human living animal and the products of that animal
  • other agricultural products that are sensitive to temperature or climate and/or at risk of perishing in transit

This bill is vital to getting legislation passed that includes Turfgrass Sod haulers in future agricultural commodity exemptions relative to Hours of Service (HOS) and Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs). If you would like to help gather state support from local represenatives in your area, please reach out to Dr. Casey Reynolds at creynolds@turfgrasssod.org.

Breakfast on the Farm with Jasperson Sod Farm

TPI member and past Board of Trustee Randy Jasperson of Jasperson Sod Farm hosted “Breakfast on the Farm” on June 22nd, 2019. This annual event is held at various locations  in Wisconsin each year and is designed to educate the public on the value and presence of Wisconsin agriculture. Members of the Wisconsin farming community in Union Grove, WI put on a real show for the public with events including petting zoos, local honey, antique tractors, and even live music, all while eating breakfast. There was also a sod harvesting demonstration which as always really draws in a crowd.

In addition to all of the fun, TPI was there to educate people on the value of natural grass sod and answer any questions on how it’s grown, harvested, and delivered to market. There was also a little more serious discussion with Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI) on H.R. 1673, the Agricultural Trucking Relief Act of 2019. Randy Jasperson and I visited with him to discuss the importance of this bill to sod producers in getting their product to market. H.R. 1673 currently has bipartisan support from 23 legislators as well as a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

Check out some of the pictures below as well as a story from Journal Times. Thanks to Randy Jasperson and his team for hosting this fantastic event!

 

Transport Canada Announcement on new ELD Requirements

The Canadian government has just announced a plan mandating the use of electronic logging devices to replace paper logbooks for federally regulated commercial trucks and busses. The new requirement will take effect on June 12, 2021 and will look very similar to recent changes adopted by the United Stated Department of Transportation regarding daily logging requirements and hours of service regulations. For more information on how this new rule will impact Canadian sod haulers, please consult the news release below from Transport Canada. This article contains a brief summary of the announcement as well as helpful links to electronic logging devices and hours of service regulations. TPI will continue to monitor these new regulations and update Canadian turfgrass producers as these news laws come into effect. Please consult the two articles below for more information on this topic and reach out to TPI with questions, comments, or concerns.