As combines start hitting the fields this week, farmers and other grain haulers are taking advantage of a temporary weight limit exemption for trucks on Iowa roads. Governor Terry Branstad signed into effect a proclamation last week that specifically increases the weight allowable for shipment of corn, soybeans, hay, straw and stover by 12.5% per axle (up to a maximum of 90,000 lbs. per load). An oversize/overweight permit is not needed.
The exemption is granted for 60 days beginning September 15, 2011. So it will last into mid-November.
"The exemption for this fall's harvest is an improvement over the exemptions that have been granted the past few years, when the maximum per-axle limitation was the less of 10% or 88,000 pounds," says Mindy Larsen Poldberg, director of government relations for the Iowa Corn Growers Association. She is the ICGA staff person who has worked closely in a lobbying effort with the Iowa governor's office each fall to get a temporary harvest time exemption.
As in year's past, this weight limit exemption for the harvest of 2011 applies to loads transported on state and county highways within Iowa. It does not apply to the interstate highway system. Also, haulers can't exceed the truck's regular maximum weight by more than 12.5% per axle and must obey the posted limits on all roads and bridges.
Must still obey posted weight limits on bridges and embargoed roads
"We are proud to have the privilege of another weight limit exemption for the 2011 harvest season, as we have had weight limit exemptions in the falls of previous years," says Kevin Ross, president of ICGA, who farms near Minden in western Iowa. "The harvest weight limit proclamation is not a right by law, but rather is a petition to the governor."
ICGA petitioned the governor in August, asking him to make a proclamation allowing a weight limit exemption this fall. "We provided the governor with information on estimated predictions of another bountiful Iowa corn crop this year," says Ross. "We sincerely thank the governor for his action, especially in providing the improved overage of up to 12.5%"
The proclamation directs the Iowa Department of Transportation to monitor the operation of the exemption, assure the public's safety and facilitate the movement of the trucks involved. Farmers who are transporting grain are also required to follow their vehicle safety standards on axle weights.
"Please remember that the increased weight tolerance does not apply to posted roads or bridges, nor does it apply to federal interstate highways," says Poldberg. Farm special licenses are included in the proclamation.
Purpose of the weight limit exemption is to facilitate the harvest
"This weight limit exemption helps improve the efficiency of getting the crop harvested," says Branstad. "It's a great advantage to farmers to have this temporary exemption. They need to get crops harvested and hauled to the elevator in town or to their on-farm grain storage bins as quickly as possible. Iowa has had numerous challenges with the weather this year during the growing season, but we are still producing a big crop of corn and soybeans."
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey agrees the exemption is needed this fall. "This is good news for farmers and will help them work efficiently when weather allows during the harvest season and hopefully helps them get the crop out of the field in a timely manner," says Northey. "This proclamation by the governor will especially benefit farmers who lost grain bins during the windstorms this summer in Iowa. These farmers now may need to move grain even greater distances to find storage."
Each year in late summer ICGA asks the governor to issue an emergency proclamation to allow a weight limit exemption for grain haulers during harvest. Why can't this proclamation be made permanent—so that it would go into effect every year at harvest?
Some people oppose the exemption, as they fear roads will be damaged
"Every year ICGA works hard to provide information to the governor's office to get a temporary harvest time exemption," says Ross. "And there are people who fight us every year on this. They don't want any weight limit exemption to be granted at all. We would have to fight a lot harder for the exemption, if it was to be made automatic or permanent for each fall."
People who are opposed to any increase in weight limits on loads on highways are protecting the roads, "and we farmers want to have good roads, too," says Ross. "However, harvest is a time of year when roads are dry and the ground is generally solid. It's not like spring where you still have the spring freeze-thaw still going on. We are not asking for a year-around exemption, just this 60 day temporary exemption in the fall."
One of the concerns expressed by Iowa Department of Transportation officials about increasing grain truck weight limits even temporarily at harvest time, is that Iowa roadways will take a harder pounding from trucks with heavier loads. "Using an emergency proclamation by the governor is the way we've been doing this for years," says Branstad. "That way you grant the exemption when it is needed. But having a permanent exemption for harvest time is a possibility that the Iowa secretary of agriculture and the governor's office will examine and we'll discuss it with the legislature. Meanwhile, at least to get through the 2011 harvest season, we feel this proclamation is the best way to go."