Members serving in the Illinois General Assembly have had a full agenda this session. Legislation dealing with the transport of farm commodities is one area important to the agriculture community.
In 2006, Peoria County farmers harvested over 18 million bushels of corn from 120,000 acres. The soybean harvest yielded four million bushels of soybeans from 80,000 acres. Another 4000 acres of wheat, 5000 acres of hay, hundreds of acres of pumpkins and several hundred head of livestock makes Peoria County a bread basket for agriculture products. These raw farm commodities are the basis for thousands of products consumers purchase at the grocery store, fuel station and retail outlets.
The forecast for the 2007 growing season is for more corn acres. Farmers throughout the United States are expected to plant approximately 90 million acres. If this is the case, corn acreage would increase 15 percent over last year and would be at the highest level since 1944. Ethanol demand is the driving force.
Corn normally yields at least three times the volume of soybeans on a per-acre basis. Last year Peoria County farmers averaged 171 bushels per acre of corn and 52 bushels of soybeans.
So where am I going with these numbers? All farm commodities need to be transported from the farm to the processor—which may be an ethanol plant, wheat miller, soybean crusher, livestock feedlot, etc. We are fortunate in the Peoria area to have three avenues of commodity transportation—river barge, rail and truck. The raw commodities for our food, fuel and fiber are transported by one of these methods and in some cases by all three. But the only method of transportation to go direct from the farm or country grain elevator is by truck. Although it would be convenient and extremely efficient, farmers cannot unload the grain from the combine hopper onto a railroad car or river barge; trucks are the only feasible means of transporting raw farm commodities from the farmstead.
As farms become larger and the distance between farmsteads and country grain elevators is greater, trucks become increasingly important to the agriculture industry. Legislation proposed in the General Assembly would make grain transportation from farmsteads more efficient. Currently, Illinois is governed through a two-tiered road weight system, and it remains the only state in the Midwest to use the decades-old 73,280 pound weight limit on non-designated state highways. It is necessary for market competition and transportation efficiency that the weight system on Illinois local roads mirrors the federal weight system, which is a uniform 80,000 pound weight limit on all interstate highways. House Bill 918 would provide this uniform access across the state.
Another piece of legislation, Senate Bill 26, would provide local road jurisdiction the authority to issue overweight permits for the hauling of grains to and from specified farms on posted roads. Currently, Illinois law does not grant the authority (except home rule) for a local road jurisdiction to grant a permit for weights on a posted road if the load is divisible. Non-divisible load permits can be issued, but most agricultural production commodities do not qualify. Local road jurisdiction would keep their authority to post weight limits for transporting goods during the annual freeze and thaw cycle. IBI