Whether you live where you grew up, are a few towns away, or moved across the country, that song is somewhat of an anthem for almost anyone who was raised in rural America. No matter where we go in life, the memory of those country roads can bring us back to where we came from.
Beyond their sentimental value, country roads are a critical link between the people who grow food and the people who eat food. Livestock trailers, milk trucks, grain carts, and more travel these dusty roads all year round to deliver products where they need to be.
Somewhat like a farmer’s body, years of hard work take a toll on rural roads. The breakdown of these pathways impacts the agriculture industry as well as the people who live in the countryside and travel these routes every day. Unfortunately, road repairs don’t come cheap.
It’s a pretty safe bet that town and county board members spend a decent amount of time discussing the roads in their area. It’s a puzzle to determine what roads need repair, which ones are the top priority, and what funding is available to complete these projects.
In some places, finger pointing may be directed at farms due to the volume of traffic that enters and exits the property. During manure hauling or corn silage harvest, the local roadways become a well-traveled route for some heavy equipment.
In an effort to prevent damage, some towns or counties have tried putting more stringent rules in place to limit wheel traffic on rural roads. While one can’t blame them for trying to protect this valuable asset, some of these regulations seem to unfairly target agriculture, and in certain cases, the restrictions could severely impact or even halt a farm’s ability to transport their products.
One such case surfaced in northwestern Wisconsin’s Price County. This county, like many others across the northern United States, places temporary weight restrictions on its roadways to limit travel of heavy vehicles during the spring thaw. Typically, exemptions are allowed for trucks that carry necessary items, such as heating fuel and septic services.
Milk haulers were also included on that exemption list until last spring, when Price County officials tried to invoke a weight limit that would have prevented milk pick up from some local dairy farms. In the end, an agreement was reached between the county and the milk hauler, and a permit was granted so that milk trucks could continue to travel down those country roads.
This winter, another county in the Badger State is trying to invoke stricter road rules. In Chippewa County, milk haulers must attend a mandatory meeting to learn about the county’s new permitting process and purchase a permit to haul milk this spring. Failure to obtain a permit may result in costly citations. There is concern that more counties could follow in similar footsteps.
High fuel costs, a truck driver shortage, and the long distance milk and other products need to travel already make transportation a challenge. Add to the mix restrictions that limit where trucks can drive, and farmers may find themselves in situations that could damage their business and livelihood.
What can be done to help prevent restrictions affecting the transport of livestock, raw goods, feed, and manure? First, stay connected to your local representatives. If they understand the important role county roads play for ag businesses, they will be more apt to work with farmers to find reasonable solutions that protect the roadways we all need.
Also, be mindful of practices that can cause damage. Watch axle weights, especially during times of the year when roadways are more vulnerable. Avoid driving on the edge of the road when possible, and look for opportunities to transport materials in other ways. For manure, draglines and underground pipes have already reduced the number of tankers rolling down the road, which is a win for the farmer and the township.
At the end of every farm driveway is a country road. We need these country roads to haul our products, drive to work, and for some of us, they lead us back home every now and then.
Until next time,
This article appeared in the February 2023 issue of Journal of Nutrient Management on page 4. Not a subscriber? Click to get the print magazine.