A new law governing the operation of farm equipment on public roads was moving toward final approval by the Wisconsin State Legislature early this month.

The law is expected to serve as a blueprint for other states considering similar legislation.

Changes are needed, because the existing Implements of Husbandry (IoH) law was enacted when farm equipment was much smaller, says Dick Kraus, an Elkhart Lake, WI, custom forage harvester. The rules have been mostly ignored by farmers and law enforcement entities, but “due to shrinking local budgets, increasing costs for road repair and more awareness by all parties involved, they may be enforced more aggressively,” Kraus warns.

A bill passed by the state Senate and modified by the Assembly on March 21 represents a compromise that will enable farmers and custom operators to do their jobs while preventing excessive damage to roads, Kraus believes.

“There are things that are going to be hard for us to live with,” he says. “Yet it offers allowances and exemptions for people with large equipment that did not exist before the new legislation.”

The bill would increase the axle weight limit from 20,000 to 23,000 lbs, and total gross vehicle weight from 80,000 to 92,000 lbs. Certain implements, including self-propelled forage harvesters, would be exempt from the axle-weight limit on county and township roads. Local governments could override the exemption, but would be required to issue no-fee permits for operating that equipment and provide approved routes if the applied-for routes aren’t acceptable.

Kraus worries that the permitting process could be “very cumbersome, scary and tedious.” Farmers know which roads they’ll be using and can apply for permits early in the year, and so do most custom operators.

“But all of a sudden one of our long-term customers gets a chance to rent a farm four miles in the other direction,” he says. “Then we may have to scramble to get last-minute permits on those roads.”

“The bill delays enforcement for violations of width, length or weight by state patrol or Department of Transportation inspectors until Jan. 15, 2015, so there’s some time to get it worked out,” points out Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin Extension ag safety specialist.

It also redefines Implements of Husbandry and states that a single IoH can be up to 60’ long. There is no height limitation, and IoH more than 15’ wide wouldn’t need overwidth permits, but would be subject to additional lighting and marking requirements.

The legislation is based on recommendations from a study group representing the state transportation and ag departments, farm organizations, equipment manufacturers and other entities. Members met frequently for more than a year, says Kraus, who represented Wisconsin Custom Operators. At public meetings last summer, farmers and custom operators were fearful that new regulations would be imposed on them. But they were reminded that more-stringent rules were already in place.

“If nothing else comes out of this, at least the education is going to help people,” says Kraus. “People are learning what the laws are.”

Skjolaas urges farmers and custom operators to begin communicating with local officials who will issue permits.

“If they know they have equipment that is of concern, they should be having conversations with the local towns and municipalities they are going to be working with,” she says.