Farmers across the state can now haul heavier loads on state routes as harvest season continues.

Farmers across the state can now haul heavier loads on state routes as harvest season continues.

The increased weight limit option, which came about through a harvest emergency declared by Gov. Bruce Rauner on Sunday, Nov. 5 is allowed thanks to a bill Rauner signed in August.

Drivers of trucks carrying agricultural commodities over state highways are allowed to obtain a free permit to exceed gross vehicle weight limits by 10 percent under the bill, according to a news release from Rauner’s office. The declaration is in effect for 45 days from Nov. 5.

The Illinois Emergency Harvest Permit only permits travel on state routes. It does not cover travel on Interstates or local routes. However permits can be requested through the governing bodies that oversee the road a driver is traveling — be it township, county or state.

“Illinois is home to 72,000 farms on 26.7 million acres. We are among the top three corn producers in the nation,” Rauner said. “Moving corn and other crops in a timely and efficient manner affects the bottom line of hard-working farmers. This declaration is an appropriate response to an urgent need.”

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Illinois corn harvest at the end of October was 17 percentage points behind the prior year and 11 percentage points behind the five-year average. The corn harvests in the Northwest, Northeast and East regions are especially hard hit. Harvesters of a variety of crops made up ground toward the end of October, but early delays still are causing backups in the transportation chain.

“If we didn’t have the warm September, we’d be in a lot worse situation. The warm September helped mature the crop so we could get it harvested quicker. At this point in the season, you don’t get much crop maturity and it is what it is at this point,” said Knox County Farm Bureau President Grant Strom.

“Strom is hoping to be finished with harvest Nov. 15 compared to a normal year where he is often done by Nov. 1.

“The farther north you go, the farther they are behind. One, they are colder, and two, they have been wetter than we have, too. So the wet and cold has really pushed a lot of things behind. The farther you drive north, the more crop you see in the field.”

The problem this year was a rainy spring that delayed planting. But this isn’t the most difficult year Strom has experienced; that distinction goes to 2009.

That year “will probably forever be the worst. We got done harvesting on Jan. 8 that year. We were harvesting in the snow that year and sub-20 degree weather,” Strom said.

State Rep. Dan Swanson, R-Alpha, is a farmer himself and was first contacted by an area farmer in the last two weeks asking about the emergency option that was part of the bill Rauner signed in August. From that point, conversations occurred at a state level that led up to Rauner’s action.

“This year maturity in the corn and dry down didn’t occur until mid- to late-October and with the prices of the commodities and the price of fuel to dry our corn down, the decision most farmers are making now is to let it dry in the field,” Swanson said.

“The bigger impact is the corn still standing in the fields if we get a snow storm or strong winds or an ice storm. That would be our biggest concern: the weather of the future with snow and ice and those types of conditions,” said Swanson.

State Rep. Toni McCombie, R-Savanna, co-sponsored HB 2580, which amended the state vehicle code to allow for exceeding trucks’ gross weight limits when a governor declares a harvest emergency.

“Mother Nature has presented Illinois farmers with a rainy spring and fall, making this year’s harvest challenging,” she said. “The State of Illinois was proactive when we foresaw an emergency this year.”

“Farmers form the backbone of our state’s economy,” said state Sen. Neil Anderson, a Republican from Andalusia who sponsored the legislation in the Senate. “Declaring a harvest emergency will reduce red tape and allow those farmers who are still in the field to focus on getting their crops in before winter really takes hold.

“The sooner farmers can get their commodities to market, the more stable the market will be for the consumer,” said Anderson.

The Illinois Department of Transportation already is mobilizing the permitting process and notifying law enforcement agencies throughout the state. More information is available at https://truckpermits.dot.illinois.gov/.