Market Matters Blog

Dairy Industry Asks for Heavier Truck Weight Permits

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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A truck loads milk at Meyer Dairy, a family-owned dairy farm located in Stearns County, Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of Tara Meyer)

Several U.S. senators are asking for truck weight flexibility for America's dairy farmers to be included in the final draft of a national transportation bill.

On Nov. 20, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill to extend highway funding for two weeks. Lawmakers are now working to push a long-term surface transportation funding package through Congress and send the bill to the president by Dec. 4.

One of the items missing from the short-term funding extension was the Safe, Flexible, and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act that would have allowed states the option of increasing weight limits on interstate highways from 80,000 to 91,000 pounds for trucks with additional sixth axles. The U.S. House of Representatives voted against the heavier weights on Nov. 3. (For more on House vote, visit http://goo.gl/…)

However, on Nov. 23, U.S. Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn.; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Kelly Ayotte, D-N.H.; and Angus King, I-Maine, sent a letter to bipartisan leaders on the conference committee asking that the final bill allow bulk milk trucks to carry milk "without being forced to offload portions, which increases food safety risks for consumers and costs for dairy farmers," according to Sen. Franken's website.

The senators wrote: "By classifying milk as a non-divisible load, this provision acknowledges that milk cannot be easily divided or dismantled between farms and processing plants. Milk is a perishable product that must be sealed for safety and transported quickly. When milk truckers pick up bulk milk, they must load the entire stock of bulk milk that a farm produced that day -- not just the amount of milk that would keep the trucker in compliance with state truck weight limits. This is problematic because the amount of milk produced at a farm varies from day-to-day, based on weather, feed, and other factors. As a result, milk truckers perpetually risk being overweight. While milk truckers can break the seal and offload a portion of the milk to bring their truck weight into compliance, doing so increases transportation time and compromises the safety and security of the milk."

Current law already permits states to issue special permits for "non-divisible" loads, such as trees, boats, or any other products whose integrity would be compromised through division.

"Adding milk to the list of products that qualify as non-divisible loads would improve the safety and security of bulk milk," the senators stated in their letter. "What's more, this provision would improve the stability of trucks loaded with fluid milk. As the conference committee deliberates which provisions will be included in the final version of the DRIVE Act, we strongly urge your support the inclusion of this important milk classification." (For the full text of the letter, visit http://goo.gl/….)

Gordon Speirs, president of the Dairy Business Association (DBA) told DTN, "Partially empty trucks mean more fuel, more traffic and more costs for road maintenance. Allowing for heavier trucks with a sixth axle would have improved all of those areas. Representative Ribble's amendment would reduce logistic expenses. This would make commerce more efficient, and we think that makes perfect sense."

The DBA is a Wisconsin nonprofit organization comprised of dairy farmers, food processors, and agricultural businesses representing all facets of Wisconsin's dairy industry. According to the USDA statistics of states with the highest number of milk cows as of January 2014 and 2015, Wisconsin was second both years with the number of milk cows amounting to about 1.27 million.

Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., co-introduced an amendment to the national highway bill to classify milk as a non-divisible load. Rep. Esty said on her website that the Hanna-Esty Amendment was introduced "after hearing from dairy farmers in Connecticut about the challenges they face transporting bulk milk."

Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

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Mary Kennedy
12/2/2015 | 6:12 PM CST
UPDATE: On December 1, The House and Senate reached an agreement on a 5-year, transportation bill which included the milk hauling ammendment sought by the dairy industry. In a statement on their website, The National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association praised Congress "for its decision to include in a conference report a dairy-specific amendment that would benefit producers, processors and consumers." The organizations now urge Congress to pass the report so that it can reach President Barack Obama's desk by the Dec. 4 deadline. Posted by Mary Kennedy, DTN Basis Analyst