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Implements of Frustration for Wisconsin Farmers

July 28, 2014
By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today Editor
Wisconsin implement law   DSC 9454   Copy
This tractor/tanker combination measures 40’ from front axle to rear, limiting its legal load limit to 84,000 and 45% of the tanker’s capacity. (Photo: University of Wisconsin Center for Ag Safety and Health)  

Road limit compromise in Wisconsin leaves few happy.

In Wisconsin legal parlance, they’re called "implements of husbandry." Farmers call them tractors, tillage equipment, planters, sprayers, hay choppers and wagons, and combines.

But after new legislation was passed on road limits this spring, they also could become "implements of frustration."

The reason: New legislation actually increases gross weight limits 15% to 23,000 per axle, or 92,000 lb. total if tractor/implement combinations reach specific front-to-rear axle lengths. But that weight often doesn’t come close to recognizing the scale of modern farm equipment. A fully loaded combine might exceed the limit; a triple-axle manure tanker certainly does.

"For years, there was a misunderstanding that farm equipment was exempt from road limits," says Paul Zimmerman, executive director of governmental relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation (WFBF). "That’s not true. Farm equipment was never exempt from weight limits."

It all came to a head in 2010. Local, township officials in central Wisconsin were worried that the large tankers were tearing up local roads, and they called on law enforcement to stop and weigh farm equipment. Subsequently, a manure tanker in Marathon County was stopped, weighed and cited.

All you-know-what broke loose. Farmer advocates, such as WFBF and the state Dairy Business Association (DBA), rushed to the Wisconsin Legislature for relief. What resulted was a 33-page bill signed into law this past April that everyone acknowledges is a compromise.

Even so, the law is still too complex and isn’t understood by farmers, local government officials or even law enforcement, says Laurie Fischer, DBA’s director of dairy policy. "The bill itself references seven other state statutes," she says. "We’ve had three attorneys in the same room, and even they couldn’t agree on what some provisions mean."

The kicker is that even the 92,000 lb. weight limit isn’t all that much when you hook-up a 3-axle, 7,400 gallon manure tanker to a tractor powerful enough to pull it. Fully loaded, the tractor and tanker could weigh more than 125,000 lb.

In tests conducted by the University of Wisconsin, such a tractor-tanker combination came in at 51,700 lb. empty. And because the tractor and tanker measured just 40’ from front axle to rear, the load limit it could legally carry was 84,000.

And that meant the tanker could only legally carry 3,200 gallons, assuming manure weighs 10 lb./gal. In other words, to not exceed the load limit, the tanker could be filled to less than 45% of its capacity. That, in turn, would double the number of trips and time required to move the same volume of manure compared to full loads.

The law does provide local units of government the right to issue permits that would allow the weight limits to be exceeded. But farmers, custom harvesters and manure haulers will have to get a permit for each tractor/implement combo they’re wishing to use. Plus, they’ll need to get a permit from each unit of government whose roads they travel.

For a large farm operating equipment on a state road, in two counties and three townships, that would mean they need to obtain six permits for each combination of equipment each year.
Farmers and custom operators view that as a regulatory nightmare. But it boils down to the fact that Wisconsin is a "local control" state, meaning laws should be enforced as close to the people as possible.

Richard Stadelman, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, puts it simply: "We don’t want the state or counties issuing permits for town roads that we are responsible for maintaining."

Wisconsin has about 62,000 miles of roads in its 1,257 townships, which averages out to about 50 miles each. Each township board will now have to decide whether they will give blanket exemptions, offer no permits or issue permits and under what circumstances. The law prohibits governing entities from charging fees for the permits.

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COMMENTS (2 Comments)

Cattletrkr - MN
If the roads are being torn up, the restrictions are necessary. Just 'cause you can build or buy a big machine doesn't guarantee you a place to drive it.
2:00 PM Jul 31st
Skibum4106 - Vicksburg, MI
Dump about 7,000 gallons of liquid manure at the Township Halls and they might get a message these restrictions are not reasonable. It's the pounds per square inch. The bigger tires you have the more you can haul with out harming the road.
12:55 PM Jul 31st



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