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Proposed implement regulations draw ire from farmers

Aug. 22, 2013 | 0 comments

When well over 100 people gathered for the first town hall meeting on an "Implements of Husbandry" proposal, many of the farmers who came were not shy about sharing their viewpoint on what a study group may propose to legislators.

One of the reasons the study groups was created (See main story) was an increasing number of farmers and manure haulers getting traffic citations for exceeding size or weight restrictions.

Some of the proposals that came out of the study group weren't lovingly received by farmers at the meeting in Madison Monday evening (Aug. 19.)

One such proposal was for farmers to get written approval from the roadway's authority - in many cases that would be a township - before they could operate their oversized farm implements on a given route.

"What if there's only one way to get to your field and the town says no?" asked one farmer.

If a town board is unreasonable, the farmer could take it to court, said Rory Rhinesmith, who chaired the IoH study group and is Wisconsin Department of Transportation's deputy administrator in the highway division.

Farmers groaned at that response.

In western Wisconsin town board are making agreements with frac sand mining interests to have them pay for the damage their operations cause to the roadways, but he admitted farmers probably don't have the profit margin that those businesses have.

Rhinesmith showed farmers at the meeting information from his agency on crashes involving farm implements. Since 2008 there have been 16 crashes that resulted in fatalities and 314 that resulted in injury.

One of the goals of the study group is to make roads safer, especially when it comes to farm implements. But it was clear that farmers were frustrated with their experiences on the roads.

"I get the finger. I get the horn. Even if I have all the necessary lights and signs the common drivers on the road just don't have any patience," said another farmer.

"I have a daughter in driver's education right now. Is there anything in that curriculum that mentions farm equipment?" asked one farmer.

Rhinesmith said clearly there is a "challenge" with aggressive drivers. "There's a lot of outreach going on right now."

One farmer said he didn't feel he should have to go to the town board to ask for permission to drive down his road. "It's my road. My ancestors gave up that land so you could have that road," he added.

Rick Stadelman, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, said that farmers shouldn't look at it that way because there has been a significant public investment in those roads. Some townships are looking at going back to gravel roads because of the cost.

Rhinesmith said that in an ideal world all local roads would be built in such a way that they could handle the increased loads of modern farm implements, but there's not enough money. "There's a shortage of funds even to do maintenance on roads."

Farm equipment dealers at the meeting said that it would often be difficult for them to get written permission to be on roads with oversized implements because they may not know until a day or two beforehand if they are making a sale and delivering that implement to a farm.

One local town official said the proposed regulation is creating a problem where there isn't one. "Our town is zoned agricultural. We have good roads and big farmers. I understand we all have to get along but let's not create a problem where there isn't one."

That comment drew extended applause from the crowd.

Another farmer, who operates in two townships, had the opposite view. The boards of both townships are filled with people who have no knowledge of agriculture and he didn't relish the proposition of asking them for permission to use the roads to get his work done.

Farmers said it wouldn't be reasonable or workable to have to take off duals from their equipment to move from one field to another.

A custom operator said he works in 17 locations in several counties and many townships; he didn't know if it would be humanly possible to get the kind of written permission that was described.

"I'd have to hire two full-time people to keep up with that," said another custom operator.

Some farmers objected to the safety figures that tallied fatalities and injuries because they involved tractors or other implements.

In several cases that he knew of, said one farmer, it was drunk drivers of passenger vehicles that caused the crash. In other cases excessive speed in the passenger vehicles was involved.

Dealers were concerned that there would be no commonality of regulations with surrounding states where they also do business.

"We would love to have national standards," said Rhinesmith, adding that Wisconsin DOT is one of ten states participating in a discussion about what it would take to achieve such national standards.

"Farm equipment manufacturers would love to have national standards."

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