(Oct. 29) ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference, a division of the American Trucking Associations, is teaming up with the federal government to find ways to make agricultural shipping more secure.

With $90,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the conference plans to develop a voluntary security guideline for agricultural trucking companies. The ATA will contribute an additional $22,000 in funding.

Fletcher Hall, executive director of the conference, said the first step will be to interview 25,000 trucking companies that transport agricultural commodities to find out what sort of security measures they already have in place.

“One of the things that we don’t know, post 9/11, is what kind of security practices trucking companies have put in place,” he said. “We need figure out how we can take a look at what might be helpful in going forward to prevent intentional contamination of agricultural commodities that may end up on somebody’s table.”

The survey will be conducted by ATA’s research arm, the American Transportation Research Institute.

Hall said the groups decided the best move would be to come up with guidelines that are mutually agreeable to both the trucking industry and the federal government and that would be implemented on a voluntary basis.

The board of directors for the transporters conference already has created a guideline for agricultural trucking, but Hall said it has never been tested. The second step of the process will be to test that guideline and see what modifications need to be made.

“We’ll test it based on what we find in the survey,” Hall said. “Then we’ll sit down and see how we might be able to modify it and see how it would be best used.”

Hall said the ATA also has created its own risk-assessment tool as part of its anti-bioterrorism package. However, that tool is aimed at the trucking industry in general. Hall said that tool may be tailored for use in the agricultural sector.

“We’ll put together a package,” he said. “What’s in practice? What can be improved? How can we adapt a risk assessment so that it will be helpful to agricultural haulers?”

Hall said discussions with the USDA have already begun, but there is no set date for release of the new guidelines.

“We hope to get them out as soon as we can,” he said. “It’s important when you think about the potential vulnerabilities to contamination in the agricultural trucking industry.”