During my relatively short lifespan (42 years now) I have seen huge changes in equipment on the state's highway. When I was kid an 8-row planter being pulled by a 150-horsepower tractor was a big outfit. Today farmers would maybe use this tractor/implement combo to plant their sweet corn acres.
The changing size of farm equipment affects state laws. Nebraska's Unicameral Legislature voted in early March to ease weight and load restrictions for farm equipment on the state's road, according to press release from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).
Legislative Bill 977 won first-round approval, 39-0, and awaits further action before it heads to the desk of Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and becomes state law. It was introduced by Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion and Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg.
The proposed law would exempt "implements of husbandry" from the weight and load limitation of the state. Included would be farm tractors, self-propelled ag equipment, agricultural floaters and spreaders, truck-mounted spreaders and truck-mounted feed trucks owned by a livestock raising operation.
Trucks and trailers, however, would still be subject to the state's rules of road regarding weight and load limitations.
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Nebraska's restrictions are designed to keep heavy vehicles from damaging roads and bridges, but agricultural groups said the rules haven't kept pace with farming equipment and trucks which have grown considerably larger. The rules also created confusion with farmers and ranchers and led to many complaints that these restrictions were interpreted differently in different parts of the state.
"The industry has changed, and the equipment being used doesn't always fit the rules," Sen. Williams said.
Under the bill, weight and load restriction would stay in place for bridges and farm equipment would remain banned on Interstate 80.
The Nebraska Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Cattlemen Association identified the bill as one of their top priorities in this year's legislation session. The Nebraska Department of Roads also has endorsed the proposed bill.
"This is something we can do to relieve some of the pressure on businesses, especially ag businesses," said Sen. Smith, who is also chairman of the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.
Larry Dix, executive director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials, said some Nebraska counties still have concerns about the bill but they will work with Smith to find a compromise before the second-round vote. The wear on roads tends to be worse in counties with large feedlots because trucks hauling manure generally weigh more than other farm trucks, he said.
One possible compromise could include an amendment that would allow local governments to maintain weight restrictions on road that are vulnerable to damage from heavy vehicles, Smith said.
The Nebraska bill is modeled after a 2014 law that exempted certain pieces of farm equipment from the state's highway weight and load restrictions. Nebraska's neighbor to the east, Iowa, has adopted a similar law as has Wisconsin.
The concerns of local county governments should be noted in the discussion of LB977. These local governments want to make sure their roads are in good shape so everyone can safely drive them. Farmers/ranchers also have a vested interest in making sure their farm-to-market roads remain in decent shape.
In my view, there is going to have to be considerable cooperation and communication among county governments and local agricultural groups to allow larger vehicles to use the roads but also make sure the roads and bridges are not damaged from this larger equipment. I hope they can work it out.
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