Surprising comments rolled into our office following our coverage of a northern Wisconsin county’s plan to require milk haulers to purchase permits to haul milk during the spring thaw. Perhaps we failed to paint a clear picture in portraying the economic costs should the situation go unchecked. That’s because a number of readers began to engage in “class warfare,” as they deemed the matter a “big farm issue” because those operations require big semis to haul milk and inputs. There’s so much more to the story.

America has a trucking shortage that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Trucking Association has estimated the industry is short some 80,000 truckers needed to keep goods moving freely. Even if those immediate job openings were filled, there’s another looming storm cloud — close to a third of all truck drivers on America’s highways are over the age of 55.

What’s been the answer for trucking firms and service providers? Larger and larger trucks. Sadly, in Wisconsin, our lack of investment for improving rural roads cannot keep up with this shifting model.

“Huge semi-trucks traveling on Wisconsin township roads is a huge problem,” shared one reader. “I can see where these counties are coming from; semis hauling overloaded trucks from fields are busting up those roads. They never pay a dime,” wrote another reader. “Bigger and bigger farms are ruining our roads,” added a third.

On the same day we heard these comments, another Badger State farmer called and wanted articles to help him counter the notion that his milk hauler and processing plant were about to substantially raise his hauling rates. That caller hit the bull’s-eye. This matter is size neutral, as trucking firms will raise rates no matter your herd size because their costs are rising, too. County permits only confound the issue.

Paying for trucking is one matter. Not even having a trucker pick up your milk is another story. If you are the last farm on a route or the one that puts the trucker overweight, you could become a business casualty in this roadway saga.

One major dairy co-op advised its members that the capacity to process milk is not the issue for dairy farmers. It’s trucking. There could be a day in the not too distant future where a processor may commit to processing milk and sanitizing the tanker — but it will be the farmer’s responsibility to haul the milk from the farm to the processing center.

In the words of Aesop, “United we stand; divided we fall.” The trucking and road issue impacts every dairy farm with a permit to sell milk. In fact, it may even be a larger blow to small dairy farmers who have less capacity to haul their own milk.