A recent court decision in a case handled by Bakke Norman attorney Tim O’Brien may have a profound effect on Wisconsin’s agriculture community. Because the decision impacts all of our farm clients, we are sending this “Farm Alert” to make you aware of the issue and suggest steps you may want to take.
The case impacts what kinds of equipment may be legally operated on Wisconsin roads. Before this case, most people understood that any sort of vehicle or equipment that was designed for agricultural purposes, used exclusively for agricultural operations and was principally used off the highway was an “implement of husbandry” that did not need to comply with the various restrictions placed on other vehicles on the roads, such as maximum width and maximum length. Our case involved the manure spreading vehicle pictured below:
The case started with a Wisconsin State Patrol officer issuing our client a ticket for being over the width limit of 8’6”. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) contends that a change to the law made in 1989 specifically excludes any vehicle that would qualify as a commercial motor vehicle (a vehicle designed or used to transport property and weighing more than 26,000 lbs.) from being an implement of husbandry. It appears there had been little to no enforcement of this legal interpretation until recently.
We argued that our client’s manure spreading vehicle did not need to comply with the width requirements because it was an implement of husbandry. The Court of Appeals concluded that the relevant statutes did not allow for this vehicle to be classified as an implement of husbandry. The Court reached this decision despite the fact that a trailer-mounted bulk liquid fertilizer container, arguably a vehicle utilized for the same essential purpose, is specifically listed in the statutes as an “implement of husbandry.” Click here to read the Court’s decision.
The Court of Appeals stated its decision was “unfortunate.” However, the decision means that vehicles, equipment and machinery that are routinely used in Wisconsin farming operations may be in violation of the law. The Court of Appeals noted that any change to the law must come from the legislature. We are aware that there is a DOT-led committee that is looking into these issues. While it has issued an Interim Report, it will likely be months, if not longer, before that committee makes any recommendations to the legislature. To read the interim report, click here.
In an effort to educate legislators on the issues, we have sent a letter to our local representatives. Click here to see the letter. We urge you to become educated on this issue and to take appropriate steps to make sure you are in compliance with the law. We also urge you to contact your legislators to provide them your opinion on how the law affects you and your operation.
If you would like additional information, please feel free to contact us.
A print-friendly version of this Farm Alert is available for downloading.