Plows and Pitchforks

Plows and Pitchforks

Summer's end is upon us once more. The end of August means that children will be back in school, and farm families will be preparing for harvest. Harvest season conjures nostalgic memories for our city cousins, yet for farmers, harvest is a hectic time of year.

Problems can arise when farm machinery is being moved from one field to the next, and is followed by hurried, unsympathetic drivers. The unsympathetic motor-vehicle driver may not realize that the farmer is probably in a hurry as well. If you find yourself at either side of the equation in this scenario, there are some things to consider.

Ohio State University Factsheet AEX-598-99, "Boosting Visibility of Ag Equipment" offers some tips. Car drivers may or may not be familiar with farm equipment and those with farm ties are becoming increasingly fewer.

People are living longer and every year, and there are new drivers on the roads; since many kids who make it through driver's education and are trusted with their own vehicles. Economics has dictated that farmers need to work more parcels of land to make ends meet. Therefore, they need to transport machinery longer distances. Farm equipment has evolved to become larger, and can extend into the opposite lane of traffic.

Speeds are often an issue when pitting tractors against cars. I remember speeding in order to get to school before the bell rang. This time of year that practice can create problems. The "Boosting Visibility of Ag Equipment" Factsheet gives an example.

"It sounds like a word problem straight out of a school math book: If a car is traveling 55 mph and a tractor is traveling 15 mph, how long does it take for the car to make up the 400-foot distance between them?" The answer is: seven seconds. Less time than it takes to find a good song on the radio, and the scary thing is that the tractor operator may not even notice a car behind them until it's too late.

Motorists can increase their chances of a successful trip by paying attention to the road and driving no faster than the posted speed limits. Farmers can also lessen their chances of getting into an accident. A Pacific Northwest Extension Publication, titled "Preventing Public Road Accidents," offers advice on making farm equipment transport safer. First, they mention that equipment operators should be well trained and possess a driver's license. Equipment should be current on maintenance. Make sure that tires, brakes, lights, and steering systems all work properly.

Check if equipment has the proper slow moving vehicle signs as well as reflective strips where necessary to increase visibility. Perhaps most importantly, slow down when coming to an intersection. Gravel roads in the fall exhibit poor visibility conditions due to adjacent tall corn fields. Corn close to the intersection can make it hard to tell if someone is coming.

I remember baling hay or doing other field work this time of year and watching the traffic along the gravel roads as I did so. A pickup would come down the gravel road at 50-plus mph and catch a bit of air crossing the intersection. Less than two minutes would go by and the same scenario would play out, only from the other direction. If they would have met at the same time, the results could have been catastrophic.

If we remember to pay attention and slow down this harvest season, we'll be able to enjoy the next.

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