Production Blog

Don't Sacrifice Safety for Speed During Weather Delays

Matt Wilde
By  Matt Wilde , Progressive Farmer Crops Editor
Tractors with rollover protection structures and shields/protective collars on power takeoff shafts help protect farmers during harvest. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Matthew Wilde)

ANKNEY, Iowa (DTN) -- I was nearly killed in a tractor accident as a child. My 7-year-old brother died in a tractor rollover incident before I was born. My father had several close calls working on our farm near Grafton, Iowa.

Please don't sacrifice safety for speed as the weather slows harvest. The welfare of your family and employees is always more important than crops in the field.

I understand the clock is ticking to get crops out. The revenue supports you and your family. However, I implore you not to be in such a hurry that farm and tractor safety -- a topic near and dear to my heart -- becomes an afterthought.

My close call occurred when I was 7 years old helping the family put hay in the barn. We had eight or so 100-bale racks to unload in an afternoon so time was of the essence, especially with cows to milk in the evening and other chores to do.

I hopped on the back of the Massey-Harris 44, standing on the hitch and holding on to the seat, to help dad take away an empty hayrack to fetch a loaded one. I unhooked and hooked up hayracks to save time. As dad backed up to a loaded hayrack, I hopped off the moving tractor as I did many times before to lift the tongue. But this time I slipped. Dad couldn't hear my brief shouts to stop and the two narrow-front tires rolled over my chest and arms. As I fell, I must have been angled so the rear tires luckily missed me.

I was fortunate to survive. Somehow, I escaped without broken bones or internal injuries despite a machine weighing more than 4,100 pounds running over my skinny frame. I stayed in the hospital for about a week for observation and physical therapy for an arm injury. I wasn't mad. It was an accident, but one that was avoidable by thinking about the consequences of actions.

My brother, Nathan, wasn't as lucky. It was haying season in 1967, three years before I was born. Nathan, 7, was riding on the fender of a Massey-Harris 44 driven by an older cousin. My brother, Dwight, 6 at the time, was sitting on the other fender.

As the tractor pulling a rack full of hay turned the corner into the farmstead, it tipped into the ditch. The tractor didn't have a cab or rollover protection structure (ROPS).

I don't know if speed was the reason or the driver misjudged the turn; either way, the accident occurred. The results were irrevocable. Dwight and my cousin were thrown clear. The tractor rolled on Nathan, who sustained fatal wounds. My wife and I named our son after my brother to honor him -- a beautiful soul gone too soon.

I've seen plenty of pictures on Twitter this fall of kids riding in combines, tractors and helping on the farm. That's great, but kids do impulsive things, don't think about consequences of actions and aren't always aware of their surroundings. I know from personal experience that can be a dangerous combination, especially around tractors.

Aaron Yoder, associate professor of environmental, agricultural and occupational health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, recently said about a third to half of all fatal farm injuries, both children and adults, involve tractors. Rollovers from hitting bumps, traversing steep slopes or driving too close to a ditch are common causes.

Deadly tractor accidents also occur from getting run over or entangled in the machine's power takeoff (PTO), Yoder said. Dear friends of my family lost their teenage son in a PTO accident.

The young man was grinding feed in the late 1970s. He died after getting entangled in a spinning PTO shaft powering the grinder/mixer. His clothes got caught in equipment. Yoder said a PTO shaft revolves 17 times per second at 1,000 RPMs. A person will have almost no time to react in an entanglement.

Farm machinery is much safer now than in the 1970s and '80s when I was a kid. Cabs or ROPS on tractors are common. PTO shields and collars on equipment such as grain augers and feed mills protect operators. But those safety features are only as good as the operator's actions, protective measures don't work if they are disengaged or not used.

Too often we believe "it won't happen to me." Kids may not think about dangers and adults aren't always paying close attention to them because work, such as harvest, is top of mind.

Farm accidents can have long-lasting mental and financial lasting effects. Charles Schwab, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University, recently said seven of 10 farms go out of business within five years of a tractor overturn fatality. My family lost our farmland during the 1980s farm crisis. Medical bills due to farm accidents likely played a role.

Schwab added the leading cause of Iowa farm fatalities is tractors not equipped with ROPS. I've been to enough farms to know there is still a lot of older equipment in use, tractors without ROPS and safety precautions that aren't always followed.

As harvest winds down, stay safe and don't become a statistic.

For more information on farm safety:

-- The Progressive Agriculture Safety Day program, The program provides age-appropriate, hands-on events for children 4 to 13 on topics affecting safety and rural communities.



Matthew Wilde can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @progressivwilde


To comment, please Log In or Join our Community .