State Views: Pass bill to ease road weight limits for farm machinery

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Jim Holte
Friday, February 14, 2014

A seed has been planted in the form of a bill to update laws pertaining to farm machinery on Wisconsin roads. It faces a short growing season, and it’s crucial that we get this crop harvested by April.

Last fall I stressed that an update of our state laws to allow farm machinery to be legally on our roads was long overdue. Two Republicans, state Sen. Jerry Petrowski of Marathon and Rep. Keith Ripp of Lodi, have introduced legislation, and they deserve praise for taking the lead on such a complicated issue.

Yet there are those who are asking why Wisconsin needs to do anything on this issue. My answer to them is simple. We have no choice.

There’s a widespread misconception that farm equipment has always been exempt from road weight limits. That’s never been the case. Just because you can buy it doesn’t mean you can drive it on roads. This bill aims to increase maximum weight limits by 15 percent for farm equipment (for both total gross vehicle weight and weight per axle), a provision that should be seen as helpful to farmers, and yet the bill remains contentious.

A typical combine weighs more than 20,000 pounds on its front axle. That means its owner could be pulled over and cited for being overweight. The last thing we want to have happen is farmers being ticketed for trying to harvest their crops. We must get this done or face a situation where we will have no recourse.

Fortunately, this bill does not just address road weights. It also makes needed updates to the definition of what is considered an implement of husbandry (farm machinery). Take, for example, trucks that are custom-made for farm purposes. Some might say they should be a commercially licensed truck, others (including the authors of this legislation) would say they are farm machinery. It’s those kinds of questions that prompted the state Department of Transportation to initiate a conversation to update farm machinery laws.

No laws limit the width of machinery, and this bill does not change that. However, safety concerns have prompted a call for lighting and reflective markings on farm equipment.

Finally, town and county officials have legitimate concerns about heavy equipment traveling on roads. Local governments are seeking a permitting process that could determine when and where combines can travel on roads. Farmers are likewise wary of the red tape and roadblocks such a process might produce. Everyone must come to the table to ensure that farm machinery can safely and legally travel our roads.

The Wisconsin Legislature will adjourn in April and will not convene again until January 2015. Suppose this fall we have widespread enforcement of weight limits in rural Wisconsin. We will have no place to turn for help and no one to blame but ourselves for not getting this done.

My challenge to you is clear. Call your legislators today and urge them to pass this bill. Wisconsin’s Legislative Hotline is 608-266-9960.

Jim Holte is president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, P.O. Box 5550, Madison, WI  53705. He is a grain farmer from Elk Mound in Dunn County. Readers can contact him at jholte@wfbf.com.

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