Farmers Truckers

Southeast Illinois farmer Bill Raben and his brother own seven semi-trucks to haul their grain. Raben says the trucks have been a good investment, but maintaining them — and the roads they drive — can be a challenge.

Nat Williams, The Southern News Services

GALLATIN — The seven semi-trucks Bill Raben and his brother own to haul their grain have been a good investment. But owning trucks comes with some challenges.

Raben, of rural Ridgway in southeast Illinois, farms 6,000 acres with his brother, Jim, and each of their sons, Beau and Joe. They find that owning grain bins and trucks of various sizes is a vital part of their operation. The combination helps give them more marketing options, and they often truck grain right to the river terminal.

Initially, they hired trucks to haul their grain, but it was difficult to get them when needed.

“Everybody wants it hauled yesterday,” Raben said.

The brothers started with a 16-foot trailer with a single axle, and the trucks grew as the farm’s production grew.

“We don’t drive it a lot — maybe 5,000 miles (a year),” Raben said. Many trips are about 16 miles from the farm, to the elevator, and back again.

And by trucking the grain to their own bins, they often save two hours’ waiting time at an elevator during the height of harvest season. Raben bought his first grain bin in 1965. In 1977 they updated their structures and did so again in 2008. Now the Rabens have storage for about 400,000 bushels of grain.

“We never have enough storage — that’s a good thing,” he said.

For their operation, it makes the most financial sense to buy used trucks. Keeping the trucks on the road today, however, is more difficult than in the past.

While the family can do general maintenance themselves, with all the electronics today, they need help with repairs. And, specialized mechanic help is getting further and further away. Nearby mechanic shops have closed over the years, including one in Eldorado, Ill. The closest option now is over the border in Evansville, Ind., he said.

Because getting trucks serviced locally is such a challenge, and having them ready when the time is right is essential, “you almost need a spare,” Raben said.

As trucks and their loads have gotten bigger over the years, new challenges arise with the weight limit of 80,000 pounds on roads.

“We don’t want to tear up the roads. We drive on them every day in our pickup trucks too,” he said. But farmers would like to see higher weight allowances on some roads near elevators and on key corridors.

Scott Sigman, the Illinois Soybean Association’s transportation, export and infrastructure lead, pursued getting the weight limit raised to 97,000 pounds. But a Congressional study on transportation showed the positive value of the change for agriculture, forestry and other industries did not outweigh the cost to the government to make the change.

But Raben has another challenge. One bridge between his farm and an elevator prohibits semis from crossing. He has to drive 20 miles each way instead of eight.

The county and state don’t have the money to repair this particular bridge because funds are going to other infrastructure that needs attention, he said. Gallatin County, with a population of about 5,590, doesn’t have the tax base to cover the repairs.

To address this, ISA created a Road Improvement Priority Calculator that can be useful to municipal planners and others who need to determine the benefit-cost ratio of repairing intersections, road sections or bridges, Sigman said. The service considers several factors including emergency vehicle road use, bus routes and safety.

The objective is to put money where there is the biggest bang for the buck for the public, Sigman said.

“We are pretty optimistic it will get some acceptance in the market,” Sigman said.

Phyllis Coulter writes for Illinois Farmer Today, a Lee Enterprises sister publication of The Southern.

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