Farmers should make sure grain trucks and any other vehicles used to haul agricultural commodities are in compliance with state department of transportation rules and regulations as they begin the 2007 harvest.

Violations of those rules and failure to have trucks and operators properly licensed and configured could produce some unpleasant surprises, according to leaders with the Stoneville, Miss.-based Delta Council and other farm organizations.

“With the Delta grain harvest expected to be more than three times its normal tonnage, Delta Council has been working with the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Enforcement Division to make sure that all producers and handlers are aware of the rules and regulations,” said Delta Council President Bill Kennedy.

“Because of the paramount issues of safety and integrity of our roads and bridges, we understand that MDOT and its staff will be across the region assuring compliance and working with handlers of harvested crops to understand the regulations.”

Anticipating the larger volumes expected from this year’s increased corn acres, Willie Huff, chief of MDOT’s enforcement division, outlined some of the rules and regulations applicable to farmer hauling of grains, cotton and other commodities, Kennedy said.

Huff said enforcement of transportation rules and regulations has become more important because of the difficulty of balancing protecting the transportation infrastructure and the safety of the public with the need for commerce to transport commodities economically.

“The increase in fuel prices not only affects the cost of commodity transportation but the cost of highway maintenance and construction,” said Huff. “With the increased cost, fewer and fewer highway lane miles are receiving annual maintenance.”

For starters, commercial driver’s licenses are not required for operators of a farm vehicle, which is controlled by a farmer, operated by a farmer, an employee of a farmer or a member of a farmer’s family.

The vehicle can be used to transport agricultural products, aquaculture products, unprocessed forestry products, farm machinery or farm supplies to or from a farm. The vehicle cannot be used in the operation of a common or contract motor carrier; that is, hauling someone else’s commodities for hire. Such exemptions are valid within 150 miles of the farm. The operator must have a valid driver’s license.

General size restrictions for such vehicles are a height of 13 feet 6 inches and width of 8 feet 6 inches. The rules list two tandem weights, 34,000 pounds and 40,000 pounds for logs, grain, sand, gravel and other bulk commodities. The single axle weight is 20,000 and the steering axle load depends on tire size.

Huff says a harvest permit will entitle the vehicle to haul sand, gravel, fill dirt, agricultural products or unprocessed forestry products at a weight not to exceed 84,000 pounds for a properly configured five-axle truck.

“Generally, the harvest permit will allow smaller vehicles to increase the payload depending on the number of axles and the distance of the axle spread,” he said.

The permit costs $25 per vehicle and is available to contract transporters. The permit application must be submitted to the MDOT Permit Division Mail Code 66-01 at P.O. Box 1850, Jackson, MS 39215-1850. Applications may be obtained at county tax collector’s offices, at www.gomdot.com or by calling (888) 737-0061.

Vehicles with three axles constructed to haul raw cotton are allowed a gross weight of 60,000 pounds as long as movement is not on the interstate system. The maximum width is 9 feet if the vehicle is operated within a 50-mile radius of its home base.

Other rules and regulations governing transportation of agricultural commodities can be obtained from MDOT through its Web site or by contacting the Enforcement Division by telephone.

“The statutes, rules and regulations are difficult to apply to general situations,” says Huff. “Please contact us, and we will come to your farm or place of business and discuss your specific concerns. The Office of Enforcement is committed to the fair enforcement of the applicable rules, regulations and statutes, and we need your assistance and support.”

“We hope that our harvest season is blessed with abundance and that all of our producers, handlers and processors comply with the rules and regulations to ensure maximum safety,” said the Delta Council’s Kennedy.

e-mail: flaws@farmpress.com