Efficiency equals competitiveness (Editorial)

(Nov. 10, 2015) Years ago, three workers in a feed store were unloading a delivery of bagged feed by hand into the warehouse. Two carried two bags at a time, the third one lugged just one.
Watching this unfold, the warehouse foreman shouted to the third worker from his office door, “What gives? You can’t hack it like there rest of them?”
“That’s not it,” the worker called back. “They don’t want to make the extra trips.”
The story came to mind as what’s being called the SAFE Trucking Act, an amendment to the long term federal transportation budget bill that hit the House floor last week.
Disappointingly, while the larger bill passed the House and awaits conference with the Senate version, the amendment failed.
The amendment would have given states the option to raise gross vehicle weight limits on six-axle truck and trailer combinations from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds.
The increase in gross vehicle weight would have addressed a growing shortage of truck drivers nationwide and a projected 25 percent increase in freight in the next decade, according to Rep. Reid Ribble, the amendment sponsor.
“Safer, more efficient trucks that can carry 91,000 pounds as opposed to the current 80,000 on our highways exist, and our major trading partners already use them successfully,” Ribble wrote in The Hill, after sponsoring the measure. “In Canada and Europe, many trucks are already carrying over 100,000 pounds safely on the road.”
Last week, as the larger Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Bill reached and passed the full House, more than 70 agricultural organizations sent lawmakers a letter supporting the Ribble amendment.
“In the agriculture and food industries, our farms and businesses are growing and making products more resourcefully, but outdated federal transportation rules force trucks to leave the farm and our plants when they are partly empty,” the letter signed by the organizations said. “By giving states the option to raise the federal gross vehicle weight limit from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds for trucks equipped with six axles rather than the typical five, the SAFE Trucking Act would safely modernize truck shipments on interstate highways by reducing the number of trucks needed to move our commodities and products through better utilization of existing capacity.”
According to a recent U.S. Department of Transportation’s Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study the 91,000 pound six-axle configuration is bridge formula compliant, would reduce pavement costs, truck miles traveled, fuel costs and carbon dioxide emissions, all while improving braking ability and maintaining handling characteristics.
For farmers the issue boils down to being more efficient, an absolute must to stay competitive on the national and world farming stage. Looking at forecasts in the grain markets, commodity crop growers will need whatever edge they can find to maintain profitability. Unfortunately, that edge won’t come from the failed effort by Ribble and other bi-partisan sponsors.
Making less trips to the grain elevator or terminal market means more time doing something else in an already compressed harvest window.
Unlike the slacking warehouse worker, the farmer’s work wouldn’t end just because others worked harder and smarter to get a job done.