Moving Grain: FMCSA Clarifies Ag Commodity Definition in Hours-of-Service Regulations

    FMCSA Clarifies Agricultural Commodity Definition in Hours-of-Service Regulations

    The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published an interim final rule (IFR) on November 19, clarifying the definition of “agricultural commodity” in the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations.

    Currently, drivers transporting agricultural commodities are exempt from the HOS requirements within a 150-air-mile radius from the origin (source of the commodity) to the destination during harvesting and planting seasons. The rulemaking is intended to ensure proper enforcement of the HOS exemption.

    The interim final rule is effective December 9, 2020. Comments and petitions for reconsideration of the IFR can be submitted by December 24, 2020.

    Senate Confirms Two New STB Board Members

    On November 18, the Senate confirmed two new members to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), Michelle Schultz and Robert Primus. This marks the first time STB will have a full, five-person Board since the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015 expanded STB from three to five members. Each member can serve a maximum of two 5-year terms, plus up to 1 additional year until a replacement is confirmed.

    The current chair, Ann Begeman, is serving her second term, which expires on December 31. STB’s two other members, Patrick Fuchs and Martin Oberman, were confirmed in January 2019. STB has broad economic regulatory oversight of railroads, including over rates, service, and mergers and acquisitions.

    Grain Inspections Down Slightly but Wheat and Corn Increase

    For the week ending November 26, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions totaled 3.5 million metric tons (mmt). Total grain inspections were down 2 percent from the previous week, up 44 percent from last year, and up 23 percent from the 3-year average.

    Grain News on AgFax

    Wheat and corn inspections increased 38 percent and 7 percent, respectively, but the increases could not offset the decrease in soybean inspections. Grain inspections increased 9 percent from the previous week in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) and decreased 8 percent in the Mississippi Gulf.

    During the last 4 weeks, inspections were 35 percent above last year and 30 percent above the 3-year average. Year to date, total grain inspections are 12 percent above the same time last year, with corn up 27 percent and soybeans up 10 percent from last year.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending November 19, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 61.0 million metric tons (mmt). This was 1 percent lower than last week, but still represented a significant increase in outstanding sales from the same time last year. Net corn export sales were 1.666 mmt, up 53 percent from the past week. Net soybean export sales were 0.768 mmt, down 42 percent from the previous week. Net wheat export sales were 0.796 mmt, up significantly from the previous week.


    U.S. Class I railroads originated 25,187 grain carloads during the week ending November 21. This was a 14-percent decrease from the previous week, 13 percent more than last year, and 18 percent more than the 3-year average.

    Average December shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $55 above tariff for the week ending November 26. This was $49 more than last week and $434 more than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


    For the week ending November 28, barge grain movements totaled 1,117,565 tons. This was 13 percent less than the previous week and 9 percent more than the same period last year.

    For the week ending November 28, 707 grain barges moved down river—88 barges fewer than the previous week. There were 979 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 1 percent lower than the previous week.


    For the week ending November 26, 39 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—8 percent more than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting November 27), 62 vessels were expected to be loaded—38 percent more than the same period last year. Fuel For the week ending November 30, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 4.0 cents from the previous week to $2.502 per gallon, 56.8 cents below the same week last year.

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