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Ease Up On Trucking

Written by Dennis Sun

    Ever since man has been on this earth and searching for food to eat, the hard part has been getting the food home or back to other humans. From slinging it over your shoulder, to the use of horses or other animals, ultimately to rail, trucks and ships, we’ve come a long way. But today, transportation of the products of agriculture is huge, not only for the means, cost and availability, but nowadays it is almost as important as the product itself.

And the same goes for any industry, as we have to get the product and the raw materials to make it in the right place, at the right time, in the right condition. Earlier this year we found out just how important transportation was to agriculture, with the large labor strike at West Coast seaports that left food, meat and other commodities rotting on the docks waiting for ships to move the product or from ships in port waiting to be unloaded.

In past years, there have been issues finding enough rail cars during grain harvest, finding truck drivers for livestock trucking during the oil boom and finding enough barges on rivers to transport grains during peak supply times.

Most of the issues involving transportation seem to get worked out, but we are always looking for ways to be more efficient in the transportation field. This past month, on Nov. 3, the U.S. House of Representatives voted against an amendment in the highway bill that would have allowed states the option of increasing weight limits on interstate highways from 80,000 to 91,000 pounds for trucks with the additional sixth axle. On Nov. 5, the $325 billion, six-year highway bill was passed without the amendment proposing changes in weight limits. Now there is a pending bill called the Safe, Flexible and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act sponsored by Rep. Reid Ribble, a Republican from Wisconsin. The bill would allow trucks with six axles to transport up to 91,000 pounds on interstate highways. Currently the federal weight limit on interstate highways is 80,000 pounds, and that has been enforced since 1982.

The part that really gets me is that a large number of state road weight limits are higher than the federal road weight limits. Some western states do have weight allowances on their state, and sometimes on federal roads that exceeds the 80,000-pound limit. But if you are traveling across many states, you have to load for the lesser weight limits.In some states you can haul more in the winter during freeze up, such as in Minnesota.

Another factor in keeping the weights at lower limits is the railroads. They have a powerful lobby in Congress, and railroads have always had the upper hand.

Most of the agriculture states have exemptions during harvest, and we are all glad for that. But in most states they treat livestock just like other loads, and that is wrong.

A farmer from North Dakota said, “I would like to have seen the increases in freight efficiencies on the interstates by increasing payload. It would have been especially beneficial for our agriculture freight up here, like cattle, commodities and fertilizer, as they utilize interstate highways.”

As in Wyoming, it is a little tough to just stay on state highways as you travel across the state.