HEAVIER LOADS?: Minnesota bumps up ag truck permit levels

PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. -- On Aug. 1, Minnesota farmers will become a step closer to equal footing with their neighbors on truck weights, but it may take equipment changes for some farms to capitalize.

PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. -- On Aug. 1, Minnesota farmers will become a step closer to equal footing with their neighbors on truck weights, but it may take equipment changes for some farms to capitalize.

The 2008 Legislature passed a permit-based law that will allow an increase in truck weights for qualified truck configurations.

"This was four years in the making," says Bruce Kleven, a

Minneapolis-based attorney and lobbyist for several grower groups in the Red River Valley, representing sugar beets, wheat, barley and potatoes. "It may or may not be useful on sugar beet farms, but it will definitely benefit the transportation from the piles to the factories."

"It's is all under permit, but will create more seamless transportation between the states and provinces because they won't have to comply with the lower weight limits Minnesota used to have," says Greg Hayes of Pelican Rapids, Minn., the coordinator of the Minnesota Truck Weight Education Program.


Several farmers contacted by Agweek hadn't yet heard any details about the changes, but are intrigued.

Chad Johnson, who farms with his father, Dan and brother Kyle, in Johnson Farms in Glyndon, Minn., says he is encouraged by the changes but isn't sure how immediately they'll affect his family's operation. Their operation hauls sugar beets, corn, wheat and soybeans to markets, sometimes across into North Dakota.

"We just replaced three hopper bottoms," Johnson says. "I don't know if it's going to help in the short term. We'll have to see how it goes."

He notes that six trucks out of the farm's 14 have three axles on them and may qualify for a 90,000-pound permit.

Roots of advantage

Generally speaking, Minnesota has lower truck weight limits than North Dakota, South Dakota or Manitoba.

"When the 'feds' got involved in taking over regulation of weight and length limits in the 1980s, they allowed states that had weights in excess of what they wanted to leave them in place," Hayes says.

Hayes knows a lot of this history. He is a former Minnesota State Patrol lieutenant and, in the past 16 years of his career, supervised commercial vehicle enforcement in northwest Minnesota. Since retiring from the force in 2000, he's been involved in truck weight education for the state.


In the North Dakota and South Dakota, longer, heavier truck weights were grandfathered in. These weights may have been heavier in the North Dakota and South Dakota to begin with because of longer hauls between major markets within the state and the need to carry heavier loads, Hayes says.

There always have been allowances for agriculture, but some kinds of crops had special consideration.

Sugar beet, potato and carrot growers of "in-ground crops" always have been at an advantage to other farmers in Minnesota when it comes to truck weights, perhaps because of a concern those crops could "freeze in" unless special allowances were made.

The Minnesota Legislature for decades has granted root crop growers a 10 percent allowance over weight limits for "first-haul" shipments of "in-ground" crops during harvest, which ran through Nov. 30. This started out as an executive order and later was made into a statute. Farmers pay a $60-per-truck fee for this privilege to go to 88,000 pounds, but some, like Johnson, don't buy the permits because they only apply to trunk highways.

"Sometimes you don't want to run anything that heavy on gravel roads in the fall," Johnson says.

Other grain growers -- wheat, barley, corn, flax, etc. -- did not have the same advantage.

Still, Minnesota's laws were considerably more restrictive than surrounding states

In 2006, the Minnesota Department of Transportation completed a study that showed that increasing weight limits on trucks, while increasing the number of axles, actually could decrease the amount of impact trucks have on highways.


The new setups

"We're able to allow an 'agricultural' increase by permit -- not just carte blanche," Hayes says of the new law. "We're going to allow heavier weights as long as they can do so safely and without unreasonable damage to the infrastructure."

There actually are two new permit regulations.

The special transportation permit will need to be issued by the road authority for the highway the truck is driving on-- state permit and county, if the county has its own permitting policy for trunk highways (except interstate highways that are not include in the new weight increase).

"In all cases, you have to check the county engineer, city engineer or town board to see if there is a permit required to operate on the roads," Hayes says. Most farmers know who these individuals are in the jurisdictions, Hayes says.

The overall state limit on roads still is 80,000 pounds, he says, but there are new limits for those who obtain the permits for agricultural products.

The first has a maximum of 90,000-pound limit on six axles. This will cost $300 per truck. The second has a 97,000-pound limit on seven axles, at a $500 per truck. Fees go toward running the permitting program, but some money may go to entities to post bridges. (Proponents had tried and dropped a proposed third category -- 108,000 pounds on eight axles, but that was withdrawn.)

"This allows raw, unfinished ag products across the border -- it doesn't matter if it's sugar beets or a kernel of corn," Hayes says.


But there are a few caveats:

n The truck has to be long enough so it won't add damage to the road with its extra weight.

  • The truck must be built for the vehicle weight.

"When the manufacturer built the truck, it has to say on the assembly plate that this truck can carry the weight safely, without adding axles or vehicle length," Hayes says. "You buy the truck for the weight. You don't necessarily reconfigure existing trucks."

  • There must be brakes on all of the wheels.

"In the past there were some exemptions, depending on how old the truck was," Hayes says. "This law is saying, to do it, you're going to have to add safeguards."
Even though permits are available for heavier hauling in a jurisdiction, that doesn't mean weaker infrastructure won't be protected.

"The road authority -- county or city engineer, for example -- has a right and responsibility to post those roads at a lesser weight, if the heavier weights endanger the integrity of that road," Hayes says.

Kleven says that as time goes by, more bridges will be modified and updated so more legal routes will be available under the increased weights.

"We hope people won't violate that out in the country," he says. "It can be tempting."

What about retrofitting?


"This is the first time in Minnesota that a state law has said you can't put more weight on the truck than the manufacturer recommends when they built the truck," Hayes says. "In the past, John Doe, sugar beet farmer, for example, might go to an after-market manufacturer. They might have a three-axle truck with a gross weight limit of 57,000 pounds and ask the retrofitter to put two more axles on that, extend the frame -- beef it up a bit. Then the truck might be able haul 70,000 pounds legally."

Hayes says it is still not clear under what conditions farmers can modify existing trucks to meet the new load limits.

"I don't know if I'm in a position to tell anybody whether they should or shouldn't retrofit," he says.

Initially, Hayes thought the new law might allow farmers to do some retrofitting, according to established formulas. That's not necessarily true.

"As late as last week I was told the federal people have an interpretation that if there is an increase in the gross vehicle rating, it must have been done prior to the sale to the first customer," Hayes says. That means a farmer would have had to order FROM? the original manufacturer to make the changes before taking possession of a new truck.

"If that's true, it would eliminate retrofitting," he says. "You wouldn't be able to do anything with that old truck and make it qualify."

One issue is whether the farmer can go to an original dealer and get them to modify the truck, but only if the manufacturer agrees to approve it. Then the new gross vehicle rating would be posted on the side of the frame, as it is with original equipment.

It may be a moot issue because of cost-benefit issue, Hayes says.


"Everybody I've talked to who wants to take advantage of the new weights are looking at new equipment," Hayes says. "They've determined what they would spend on retrofitting would probably not let them get the maximum weight. There's also the uncertainty of whether it's allowed."

Liability is an issue, of course, Hayes says. If a truck manufacturer allows a change in the gross vehicle rating and the truck is in a crash, it could be a problem. "Who is going to stand in their corner?"

Kleven agrees with Hayes' interpretations and says it's still good to have the option. "There may be tweaking down the road."

No trailer boneyard

Hayes doesn't know enough about Minnesota on-farm truck inventories to know how quickly farmers will adapt to the changes.

"Most of the existing trucks on farms are probably not going to be long enough for retrofitting anyway," he says, if the retrofitting is an option. "If you're going to haul 90,000 pounds, you have to have a minimum of 60 feet from the middle of your steering axle to the center of the No. 6 axle on your trailer. If you're hauling 97,000 pounds, then that distance jumps to 64 feet."

Large operators, such as Transystems L.L.C., the company that hauls beets for American Crystal Sugar Co.'s five factories, and R.D. Offutt Co., which hauls potatoes in the area of a Park Rapids, Minn., processing plant, are looking to change out their trucks for the optimal hauling weights, he says. Some of the larger haulers have wanted to get right on the issue.

Dan Rice, vice president of marketing for Transystems in Great Falls, Mont., says his company's manufacturing division has built and tested prototype trailers and most likely will start taking advantage of this first at Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative at Renville, but that American Crystal Sugar Co. will come on-line soon. He expects the conversion to be complete within a year or two. Cost savings will be passed on to the cooperatives, he says.

Hayes thinks the rules may influence some Minnesota corn farmers to make changes in their rigs, especially if they already were considering changes.

"The thing they have to consider is whether they can use heavier weights on all of their routes. Do they have bridge issues?" he says.

Others, such as Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., have told him they may choose to stay with existing trucks, but would qualify for an intermediate level weight increase to 86,000 pounds.

"That's still about 6,000 pounds per truck by getting that permit," he says.

Hayes doesn't look for any boneyards of old, obsolete trailers.

"I'm sure there's a market for the industries that don't have the additional weight," he says. "There are also states that don't have this law. People are going to ease into this until they find out where the pitfalls are. It's a work in progress. It's something new and not everybody is sure what's going to happen here."

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