Manitoba eases spring load limits for grain trucks

Grain will be an “essential commodity” this year during Manitoba’s spring thaw, for the purposes of trucking grain on the province’s minor highways.

The provincial government on Monday announced a “special one-time amendment” to its spring weight restrictions on provincial roads, so as to “enable farmers to be nimble and react quickly to changes in climatic and market conditions” during the current grain freight backlog.

Normally, Manitoba and other provinces impose a spring road restrictions program, limiting the percentage of normal axle weights that trucks (4,500 kg or heavier) may haul on specific routes. Such restrictions usually run during the period when road structure is most at risk of weakening under spring rains and thawing.

This spring only, however, all grain will be considered an “essential commodity” and may be transported at restricted Level 1 weights (that is, 90 per cent of normal axle loading) on all Level 2 highways without a permit, the province said.

Heavy trucks on Level 2 highways are usually limited to 65 per cent of normal axle weights during the spring road restriction period. Exemptions can otherwise be made for commodity grain — that is, grain not destined for seed or livestock feed use — but the exemptions are restrictive and require provincial permits. Exemptions for feed and seed grain are usually equally restrictive, but don’t require permits.

Trucks eligible for this spring’s one-time amendment must still comply with all posted weight restrictions on bridges, the province noted.

“Usually the province will wait for the frost to come out of the ground, but for this spring, we are relaxing restrictions for trucks hauling grain,” Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said Monday in a release.

“Inappropriate storage”

Given last fall’s bumper crop, periods of extreme cold this winter and a well documented backlog in grain freight, plus Manitoba’s relative distance from port terminals at Canada’s West Coast, grain elevators in the province are operating at 116 per cent of working capacity, up from 112 per cent a week ago, the province said.

On-farm storage on the province’s farms is also overwhelmed, Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn said in a release, with some farmers having to store their grain in “inappropriate, temporary storage” now at risk of degrading and spoiling.

The federal government this month gave Canada’s big two railways four weeks to ramp up weekly grain traffic to 5,500 cars each or face financial penalties of up to $100,000 per day. [Related story]

Noting the resulting cash crunch facing farmers this spring, Doug Chorney, an East Selkirk, Man. farmer and president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, hailed the province’s move, saying “removing the spring road restrictions will help ease the backlog.”

“I want last year’s bumper crop to have the best chance of getting to market so our grain farmers get paid,” Kostyshyn said in the same release.

The province also recently set up an online grain storage listing service, aiming to connect farmers to others who may have available space this spring to store grain. — Network

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