If you have taken a drive through the North Country lately, you will have noticed that farmers everywhere have been taking advantage of the recent period of nice weather. The majority of corn fields have finally been plowed and planted, and fields of alfalfa and hay have seemingly been harvested overnight.
The rate at which a modern farmer can plow, plant and harvest has been increased greatly by technological advancements in the farm machinery required. As the size and scale of local farms has increased, the equipment needed to do the work in a timely manner has also increased in size and capacity.
It is hard to imagine, but in the past 75 years, farms have transitioned from horses and small gasoline tractors to immense four-wheel-drive articulated tractors that can do many times the work producing more crops, in less time, using fewer inputs than ever before.
In the 1940s, my father grew up on a local dairy farm and remembers still using horses to mow and rake hay, pull wagons and do routine chores. Much of the powered equipment in use back then such as hay balers and corn choppers were not pulled into the field, but remained stationary, with the crops being brought to the machine for processing.
Gradually over the following decades, farm machinery evolved into what we see today. And while old tractors and machinery can be maintained and many continue to be used even today, there have been many improvements made which have made most old tractors obsolete.
Farm safety has been a concern for many years. Agriculture in the United States is one of the most hazardous industries, only surpassed by mining and construction. Older tractors and farm machinery had few or no provisions for safety. Often tall and narrow, older tractors had a higher center of gravity and were more likely to tip or flip over.
Today's tractors routinely come equipped with rollover protection, seatbelts, hazard lights and many other safety features. Modern electronics, disc brakes, rear-view mirrors, radios and even air-conditioned cabs all make the working environment less stressful and more productive. By reducing fatigue, modern tractors have increased safety and reduced accidents.
Another safety feature that has reduced accidents on the public roadways is the Slow Moving Vehicle, or SMV, sign. The SMV sign is an orange triangle with a red florescent outline that is required to be mounted on the back of all tractors and implements that travel on public highways at speeds of 25 miles per hour or less. With corn planting and hay harvesting in full swing, it is especially important for motorists to understand that farm machinery has the right to be traveling on the highway and that the operator may not be able to see you because the large equipment or a load can block part of their rear view.
Before passing slow-moving machinery, you should look carefully to be sure the machinery is not turning left. Look for left turn lights or hand signals. If the machinery slows and pulls toward the right side of the road, the operator is likely preparing to make a wide left turn.
Be sure that there is adequate room to pass and that there are no obstacles such as mailboxes or road signs that cause the machinery to move to the center of the road. To ensure a safe summer on our country roads, everyone needs to have a little extra patience, careful driving habits and watch for the high-visibility markings and lights available on most modern farm equipment.
Modern agricultural machinery has come a long way with improved function and safety. But with larger and faster tractors, farm trucks and self-propelled machinery comes the responsibility to take extra care when operating and sharing the roads with the traveling public.
Passenger car drivers must also recognize that farm machinery is going to be going slower. Since a major cause of accidents on public roads is the difference in speeds, drivers should stay alert and begin braking as soon as they identify the hazard.
For more information about farm safety both on and off the road, or for more information about the importance of agriculture in Clinton County, you can reach me at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Plattsburgh at 561-7450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.