View From the Cab

Think for Safety's Sake

Pam Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Each week Scott Wallis and Ashley Andersen report on current field conditions and life on the farm. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith and Nick Scalise)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Ashley Andersen's bird's-eye view of the rolling Nebraska fields typically brings her a sense of peace as she prepares meals in her farmhouse kitchen. That calm shattered in an instant last Wednesday, Oct. 16.

Instead of watching harvest crews wend homeward, she looked upon red flashing emergency lights and cars backing up along U.S. 30, a highway that threads through the farming operation and carries a heavy traffic load each day.

"My world stood still," said Andersen. "Then, my phone rang and it was my husband, Jarett, confirming there had been an accident."

The driver of the car was the only person injured in the collision. Fortunately, cameras mounted on the rear of the grain cart gave Jarett an early warning. He had just enough time to steer the equipment mostly clear before the car coming from behind clipped a rear left tire of the grain cart.

Ashley, who has been reporting as part of DTN's View From the Cab project this season said the incident has haunted her thoughts this week. The Blair, Nebraska, farmer posted a passionate social media appeal for more thoughtfulness when driving around farm equipment. The groundswell of comments that followed brought another flood of emotions as she quickly learned not everyone tolerates being slowed by lumbering machines.

"It's not a week I wish to repeat...yet, we feel lucky when we consider how bad it could have been. I don't regret urging others to pay attention while driving. This is our livelihood, and we work hard to do it in a safe manner. We aren't out there very many days of the year," she said. "We just need to work together."

Scott Wallis has also experienced traffic trials. The Princeton, Indiana, farmer has an automobile plant close to his farm that employs over 5,000 people.

Scott, who has also been contributing to the DTN project this season, knows the haunting fear that comes from a close call. His father, Bob, has survived two grain entrapments.

"I can't look at him without thinking of how lucky we are to still have him," Scott said. "Those events changed how we work and our attention to detail around the farm."

Safety messages are even more critical in years like 2019 when farmers are pushing hard and putting in long hours -- many of them after dark. Read on to learn more thoughts on farm safety, how machinery breakdowns add stress and how harvest has progressed.

Here's what's happening in these farming regions this week:

SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA

Scott Wallis doesn't work at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, but he definitely knows the times for shift changes at the plant located near his home farm in Princeton, Indiana. It dictates when he moves his equipment.

"We have one road that is a popular cut through that we just can't use it certain times of the day," said Scott. "Not only is it narrow, but drivers are in a hurry and often distracted as they depart work."

When they encounter other vehicles along narrow roadways, the Wallis Farm team has found it better to travel until they can safely pull completely off the road and wait for traffic to pass. They tend to move the combine, header trailer, tractor/auger wagon and semis together nose to tail in a convoy. "It is a bit more aggravating to impatient drivers, but they see us," he said. Removing the combine head, folding in ladders/augers and folding planters as narrow as possible for transport is also important.

Cameras are an underused and low-cost safety item, he added. "The way our Deere sprayer is made, you can't see the outside of the wheel. A camera helps us detect where the road edge is or the ditch. It was installed to help during application, but we have found it a really cool tool during transport," he said.

Grain bins are configured differently than when his father, Bob, became engulfed years ago, Scott said. However, the farm has strict rules that no one enters a bin without being tied off and having two other individuals present.

"Mostly, we just don't go in bins. There really isn't any reason to do so. We keep grain in condition, and go at it from the angle of avoiding reasons for entry and look for alternatives to entering," he said.

It was mechanical issues with the combine that resulted in frustrations this past week. "We started busting hoses like there's no tomorrow -- we went through four between Friday and Sunday and blew a solenoid in the block," Scott said.

"I'm not talking about little pinholes on those hoses either," he added. "On Sunday we blew a 1-inch, two-wire hose completely in two."

The inch of rain that fell between Sunday and Monday temporarily locked the crew out of harvest, which made the mechanical downtime a bit more tolerable. "We needed a break, but I could have done without the breakdown," Scott said.

A new hydraulic pump and more hoses were headed to the farm, and they had fingers crossed for speedy and successful repairs. The breakdowns were a surprise since the 2018 model machine was purchased last fall with only 100 engine hours and 59 separator hours after being used as a demo model.

"We've got about 350 engine and 250 separator hours on it now and everything is still under warranty. It's not the repairs, but the downtime that is costly," he added.

Harvest is about 75% complete and Wallis has been pleasantly surprised by the yields. May-planted corn averaged 230 bushels per acre (bpa).

Nearly 900 acres of beans planted in June averaged 65 bpa. "We did have about 60 acres of really ugly beans in Illinois go around 30 bpa. They were like small BB's," he noted. Kick those beans out of the overall take and their soybean average had been running 71 bpa.

Rotation may have played a role in that particular low-yield scenario. It was the first year Wallis Farms has managed the parcels. When planting got seriously late, the decision was made to plant beans on bean ground. A nearby field where soybeans were planted for the first time and followed by wheat produced 61 bpa.

As of Monday, Wallis Farms had harvested about 300 acres of June-planted corn that had averaged 193 bpa average. "We harvested what I would consider our worst field of corn, and it averaged 181. I was ecstatic," Scott said.

Bordered by trees on three sides and a haven for feeding deer, that field rises to a peak of lighter soils that tend to be droughty. "The 2017 season was a fantastic corn year here and that same field produced 157 bpa that year," Wallis said. "We've improved the fertility by adding turkey manure every year since, but still...I thought the drought we had in September might have hurt it more." The edges of the field averaged about 100 bpa around with the middle making up the difference.

There's a bit more June corn to harvest, and its running around 20% moisture. There are also 350 acres of July-planted soybeans acting like teenagers -- wondering just how late they can stay out before they have to come home.

The best news is that by Tuesday afternoon, the combine was back up and running. It's go time again.

ASHLEY ANDERSEN: BLAIR, NEBRASKA

For the first week this fall, Ashley Andersen can finally report harvest progress as crews made a good run on the crop last week, despite the complications of a traffic accident.

"We have cut about half our bean crop," she said. "Rain showers and cloudy weather are still giving us fits, but we've had enough clear days to make progress."

Yields have been much better than they expected with all the ups and downs of the year. Wet, then dry, and then wet again conditions were mixed with thistle caterpillar attacks this season. Still, soybean fields' averages have been coming in at mid-to-high 60 bpa, Jarett Andersen said.

"Yields drop about 10 bushel on our later planted soybeans, but we remain optimistic for a decent farm average when we're done," he reported. They have not picked any corn yet, but it continues to stand well, and they were hoping to move into some this week.

The grain cart bought new this year and involved in the accident was still drivable after the accident, but the rim, tire and weigh bars are being replaced for safety's sake. The safety theme is something Ashley has explored previously in View From the Cab. The Blair, Nebraska, area has become more congested over the past few years.

Her social media post was shared more than 30,000 times and received more comments than she dreamed. "I hoped maybe a few people in our area would read it and slow down. I had no idea it would bring this kind of attention.

"We are passionate about what we do for a living. We want to explain why it is important that we are out here, and that our workday doesn't end at 5 -- particularly in seasons like this," she said.

In her post she wrote: "I am begging people to slow down for farm equipment. I realize they move slow. I realize you're in a hurry. But those boys in that tractor are my whole world. It could have been so much worse. All the "what if's" keep playing through my head of what could have happened if a car or semi was behind them or coming the other direction..."

"...All I ask is to slow down. Get off your phones. Look up. And watch out for my boys, and all the other farmers out there. They want to come home safe to the family that loves them."

Not everyone responding to her post agreed that farmers should have the same road rights, and a few of the comments were upsetting, she acknowledged. It prompted her to write more specifics -- urging motorists to watch for blinking lights and offering details as to why big equipment needs room to maneuver. Agriculture and public roadways need to do their part, she agreed. "I've been to states where they have blinking signs -- much like school zones -- when farmers are moving. We are careful about when we move and using additional tools like cameras and lighting, but we all still need to be aware," Andersen added.

Finally, she offered these thoughts: "Thanks for sharing everyone. I hope it makes some people stop and think. Remember, as much as you don't want us to be slow in front of you, we don't want to be there that much more. Give us a second, take a breath. We'll be out of your way in a short time."

Pamela Smith can be reached at pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(BAS/CZ)

Pam Smith