As drought conditions plague more than 53 percent of the U.S., some states are issuing waivers for truck drivers hauling agricultural products such as hay to desperate farmers.
Richard Heim, a meteorologist at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center Climate Monitoring Branch, told Land Line on July 26 that moderate to exceptional drought conditions now cover 53.44 percent of the U.S. and Puerto Rico. That is up from 53.17 percent a week ago. He said the U.S. Drought Monitor, which has been around since 1999, measures weather conditions weekly.
“Based on the U.S. Drought Monitor, which is sort of the de facto monitoring tool we use in the U.S. nowadays, we haven’t seen anything this big in the last 13 years,” Heim said.
He said about 55 percent of the lower 48 states reported moderate to extreme drought conditions in June, based on the Palmer Drought Index. That report is released monthly.
“We haven’t seen anything like this since the 1950s, based on the Palmer Drought index,” Heim said. “However, in the 1950s, between 40 and 60 percent of the country was experiencing drought conditions for three to four years.”
Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 55 percent of the nation’s pasture and rangeland was in “poor to very poor conditions.” The agency also has designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas.
Heim said in talking with state climatologists and agriculture specialists that even with rainfall some of the crops, including corn, may not recover.
“I have heard that soybeans might be able to recover with some rainfall, but that corn is pretty much past the point where a little rain will help increase its yield,” he said.
This latest news is grim for many ranchers and farmers, whose livelihoods have been severely affected by persistent drought conditions.
“I have heard that some ranchers are going to liquidate their herds and retire because there really isn’t good grazing anywhere,” Heim said.
This week Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called on the state Department of Agriculture to authorize permits that will allow truck drivers to transport heavier loads of hay bales throughout the state.
Through June 30, 2013, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation will issue free permits for heavier loads of hay bales during daylight hours. The loads are restricted to a maximum overall height of 14 feet, 6 inches, width of 12 feet, length of 75 feet for combination vehicles and 45-feet for single vehicles.
According to the governor’s release on July 24, the gross maximum weight must not exceed 90,000 pounds on vehicle combinations with a minimum of five axles. The vehicles must be registered for a minimum of 50,000 pounds gross vehicle weight or be exempt from registration as an “implement of husbandry” as defined by Wisconsin law.
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam recently issued an executive order stating that truckers may haul up to 95,000 pounds, not exceeding 20,000 pounds per axle load, to allow hay haulers to transport six to seven-foot round hay bales side by side. The order expires on Sept. 8.
In Kentucky, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet issued an emergency declaration in late June that exempts the haulers of agricultural products from hours-of-service restrictions. The order also exempts those hauling agricultural commodities from having to stop at all weigh stations. That order is in effect until April 1, 2013.