When it comes to Minnesota soybean farmer profitability, investing soybean checkoff dollars into ways farmers can lessen their costs is always a priority.
One of those areas is in the field of transportation, where the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council invests considerable money, including $25,000 annually to be a part of the Soy Transportation Coalition.
STC recently released the research project, “Heavier Semis: A Good idea?” – a study analyzing the likely results of expanding semi weight limits over the federal highway system.
“Investing Minnesota soybean checkoff dollars into the STC, and then working with the coalition to determine a needs study made a lot of sense to us,” said Keith Schrader, Vice Chairman of the MSR&PC.
The study, funded by the soybean checkoff, is an update of an earlier 2009 report that analyzes the impact of increasing semi weight limits on federal roads and bridges from an 80,000 lbs., five axle configuration to a 97,000 lbs., six axle configuration on: 1.) Motorist safety; 2.) Infrastructure wear and tear; and 3.) Potential cost savings and efficiency gains for agriculture and the U.S. economy.
“It is important for us to be proactive on this issue to insure that agriculture production can move both efficiently and safely to the marketplace,” said Lance Peterson, a Minnesota Soybean Growers Association director who farms near Underwood, Minn. Peterson is also an American Soybean Growers Association director who sits on the STC board on behalf of ASA.
This research project was conducted because the volume of freight demand by all modes of transportation – truck, rail, maritime, and air – is expected to increase from 18.5 billion tons in 2010 to more than 27.5 billion tons in 2040. Demand for trucking is also expected to increase by 6 billion tons from 2010 to 2040.
As the demand for trucking increases, several challenges, including lack of investment in road and bridge capacity, shortage of truck drivers and a decline in rail service, has required trucks to accommodate more freight.
The research study has shown that adding an additional sixth axle to a semi weighing 97,000 lbs. will create further braking capacity so that stopping distances will be the same as a five axle, 80,000 lbs. truck.
Additionally, six axle, 97,000 lbs. semis will result in fewer semis on the road compared to only using the 80,000 lbs. weight limit. With less semis trucking, the study projects this increase in weight will result in 98 fewer motorist fatalities by 2022.
“Motorist safety is more of a function of the number of semis on the road and less a function of the weight of individual semis,” said STC Executive Director Mike Steenhoek. “We can respond to the increased demand for trucking by either maintaining the status quo, which will result in a higher density of semis per mile, or entertaining options such as allowing six axle, 97,000 lbs. semis. The research indicates such an increase in semi weight limits will lower the potential for injuries and fatalities – providing a safer system for fellow motorists.”
The study also projects that allowing six axle, 97,000 lbs. semis will result in 1.2 million fewer truck trips, 5.5 million fewer gallons of fuel consumed, 56 thousand fewer tons of carbon dioxide emissions and between $11 million – $28 million in reduced fuel costs.
Moving to a semi weight limit will also allow a farmer to transport at minimum an additional 183 bushels of soybeans per load, saving soybean farmers 602,000 truck trips annually by 2022.
“This just shows that the less trips our soybean farmers and trucking companies have to make, the less costs they will incur,” Schrader said.
Established in 2007, the Soy Transportation Coalition is comprised of 13 state soybean boards, including the MSR&PC, the ASA and the United Soybean Board. The goal of the organization is to position the soybean industry to benefit from a transportation system that delivers cost effective, reliable and competitive service.