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Trucking mandate could cost ND livestock producers

ELGIN, N.D.—When Warren Zenker hauled cattle commercially, he and other drivers might stretch past allowed hours of service to go the last 100 miles and get the animals to their destination.

While a new mandate for electronic logging devices doesn't change the number of hours drivers are allowed on the road, the increased enforcement of those rules could have an effect on North Dakota's cattle industry.

"With these ELDs, it's going to put you out of service," said Zenker, who operates a cattle feeding operation near Elgin and serves as board president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.

The increased enforcement means companies will likely put a second driver in the truck for long trips to avoid violations, increasing the freight costs for those that buy and sell cattle.

While livestock haulers have been granted a 90-day stay on the rule, lasting through mid-March, many are looking for longer-term relief.

Zenker loaded 2,000 head of cattle on a truck Wednesday morning at his feeding operation near Gackle. The animals are bound for a feed yard in central Nebraska, 400 miles away.

If the driver runs into any bad weather, he won't make it within allowable hours of service.

Zenker said, when he sells to feed yards, those yards pay the freight. But if that freight cost suddenly goes from $4 to $8 per mile, that yard may no longer be willing to pay $1.50 per pound for calves.

"Somewhere along the line it's going to make the cattle cheaper," Zenker said. "Producers are the ones that are going to end up footing the bill."

There is a rule exception that says hours of service don't apply to within 150 air miles from the point of origin to the destination, said Julie Ellingson, executive director of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association. But that rule does not cover the miles needed by many cattle haulers in the state.

Zenker said it is not possible to travel from Kist Livestock Auction to central Iowa within 11 hours, the amount of time drivers are allowed to be on the road between mandated 10-hour rest times.

From Zenker's operation to Ames, Iowa, it's 600 miles. And those hauling from Rugby can make it to Aberdeen, S.D., in about three hours.

If they need to get to southern Nebraska, it can't be done, according to Zenker.

Because of its geographical location compared to the Midwest feed yards, North Dakota is at a disadvantage, Ellingson said.

The other options trucking companies have, rather than paying a second driver, is to find a place to unload the animals or allow them to stand in the truck while the driver sleeps. Ellingson said this puts the safety and welfare of the animals at risk.

"The cargo we carry is different because they're live animals," she said.