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Farm yields: Road hazards approach with fall harvest

John Hintzsche works on a piece of equipment in preparation for the upcoming harvest on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011. (Rob Winner –
John Hintzsche works on a piece of equipment in preparation for the upcoming harvest on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011. (Rob Winner –

Vickie Faivre remembers how she felt after a car almost hit her while she was driving a slow-moving farm vehicle along a DeKalb County road.

As she was preparing to turn right, a car passed her on the right side of the road, narrowly missing her farm vehicle.

“I shook for about a half-hour after that,” Faivre said.

Today kicks off National Farm Safety and Health Week, which is dedicated to raising awareness about farm hazards as the busy harvest season approaches locally in early October.

“We’re really in farm country here in DeKalb County,” said DeKalb County Farm Bureau spokeswoman Mariam Wassmann. “We emphasize roadside safety as farmers move from field to field.”

DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said there are two or three accidents each year that involve farm equipment on the roadway. Accidents usually happen around planting and harvest seasons, he said. Farmers need to make sure their lights are working properly and that they have slow-moving vehicle signs properly displayed on their tractors. But drivers also need to take precautions, he said.

Scott advises drivers to avoid passing farmers on bridges and overpasses, approach farm vehicles slowly and make sure there’s enough room to pass before attempting to go around farm equipment on the road.

“A farmer’s vision and hearing may be severely limited due to equipment,” Scott said. “Remember this is a rural, ag community in great part.”

Faivre, who farms southwest of DeKalb, said most of the farm vehicles she drives, such as combines and grain carts, top out at speeds of 25 mph.

Harvest season, which for the Faivres starts in a few weeks, means they’ll be moving farm equipment a distance of about 20 miles between farm sites at least once a day.

But, as a farmer on the road, she tries to be mindful of other drivers and avoid busier roads.

“We try to gear our travel around DeKalb based on traffic,” Faivre said. “Some fields are so hard to get to that we only go on Sundays.”

Tracy Jones, who farms north of Clare, said the roads are his biggest issue when it comes to safety during harvest season. While he uses safety features, such as cameras, there’s only so much he can do.

“Safety is pretty much out of your hands,” he said. “You can’t control the other drivers. Sometimes drivers get impatient.”

Most farmers make an extra effort to get over to the side of the road as far as possible or pull over every once in a while to let cars pass, Jones said. Like Faivre, he tries his best to avoid routes 64 and 38 during rush hour.

Roadways likely will be filled with slow-moving farm equipment through mid-November, Wassmann said. She said it’s important to keep a safe distance behind farm vehicles, especially in high traffic areas.

Three years ago, the DeKalb County Farm Bureau started selling signs to farmers to post near field entrances. The yellow road signs say, “harvest in progress,” and are aimed at improving road safety during seasons when a lot of farm equipment hits the road, Wassmann said. When harvesting starts throughout the county in the coming weeks, she said motorists can expect to see about 200 signs posted near field entrances and places where there’s lots of farming activity.

Malta farmer Mike Schweitzer said he travels close to 20 miles between fields, sometimes along busier roadways. Like many farmers this time of year, he’s preparing his farm equipment with safety measures such as back-up sirens.

“It’s in our best interest to make sure our farmers are as safe as can be,” he said. “It’s not just occupational. For a lot of us, these are our family members.”

Safety tips

Local farmers and the DeKalb County Farm Bureau are urging drivers to:

• Reduce speed when encountering farm equipment on roads. Watch for flashing amber lights on farm implements, which signal “caution.”

• Slow down when they see the Slow-Moving Emblem (orange and red reflective triangle) that warns that the vehicle travels at a slow rate of speed.

• Keep a safe distance from the equipment so the farmer can see the vehicle. If drivers can’t see his mirrors, he can’t see the driver.

• Pass wide, large farm equipment only if conditions are safe and the farmer will not be making a left-hand turn.

• Be prepared to yield to wide equipment.

• Watch for the farmer’s indication of a turn.

Source: The DeKalb County Farm Bureau

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