By Tim Unruh, The Salina Journal, Kan.
A crusade by custom harvesters to ease restrictions on moving equipment through Kansas leapt closer to fruition this week, but it's still likely a year away.
Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder pushed to insert language into the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill that would allow Kansas lawmakers to modify truck-length laws for custom harvesting equipment. He announced the move Wednesday.
A Republican from Overland Park, Yoder is vice chairman of the THUD appropriations subcommittee. The bill is worming its way through Congress. The House Appropriations Committee will consider it next week.
The step was encouraging to longtime custom cutter Rick Farris as his crew prepared to depart next month from Edson, near Goodland, to begin wheat harvest in southern Oklahoma. His 50th campaign will end in early September in central Montana.
Staying in business means controlling expenses, he said, and if lawmakers follow through and grant the exemption, his costs will shrink.
"It would simplify moving quite a bit and cut our miles about in half," Farris said.
Nebraska has exemption
The current maximum length for harvest crew trucks and trailers in Kansas is 75 feet. An exemption would increase the limit to 81 feet, 6 inches. Those limits were frozen by Congress in 1991.
Nebraska "carved out an exception" to the limit in 2005, said Tom Whitaker, executive director of the Kansas Motor Carriers Association, and Kansas is after the same.
"Yoder's amendment unfreezes the federal law to allow the state to make the adjustment in law," said Allie Devine, a contract lobbyist for the U.S. Custom Harvesters. She is a former Kansas secretary of agriculture.
"They've got to change federal law first," Whitaker said. "Equipment, headers, are getting bigger."
A typical transport in the custom harvesting business is a semi pulling a combine on a trailer, followed by either a second trailer pulling a combine header or a grain trailer.
"There are usually two pieces behind the truck," said Tracy Zeorian, of Manley, Neb.
Save time, money
Zeorian, who owns a custom harvesting business with her husband, Jim, is executive director of the U.S. Custom Harvesters Association, based in Hutchinson. She said getting an extra 6 1/2 feet in Kansas would save time and money.
The harvesters association is lobbying for similar changes in Texas and Colorado.
" Oklahoma kinda leaves us alone because they know we're ag-related," Zeorian said.
A crew finishing harvest for a client in Oklahoma would pack up, break down equipment and head north for fields in Kansas. But it couldn't be a nonstop trip, thanks to length limits in Kansas.
"That would mean that we would have to unhook a trailer (at the state line) and go back to get it at a later time," she said. "A state patrolman would make you unhook, and you're fined for it as well."
Not having to unhook at the border would streamline transport and help crews meet deadlines, Zeorian said.
Many groups supportive
Yoder earned praise for his efforts on the federal level, Devine said, but changing the length requirements will take some time.
"We're a ways from getting it done in Washington," she said.
Once approval is granted on the federal level, the issues will land in the lap of the Kansas Legislature. Because of the timing of action in Washington, Kansas lawmakers won't be able to act on an exemption until the 2016 session, said C.J. Grover, a spokesman for Yoder.
The effort has received letters of support from the Kansas Highway Patrol, the departments of transportation and agriculture, the Senate Rural Caucus, the Kansas Motor Carriers Association, the Kansas Agricultural Alliance, Kansas Farm Bureau and a number of state lawmakers.
"It does appear there is support in Kansas," Grover said.
In a Wednesday news release, Yoder called the exemption "a commonsense move that will help our Kansas economy without increasing federal spending or adding to our national debt."