Press-Republican

April 28, 2013

It's important to share the roads with farm operators

Peter Hagar, Agriculture Educator
Press-Republican

— If you have taken a drive through the county lately, you will have noticed that farmers everywhere have been taking advantage of the spring weather.

Large trucks and tractors are increasingly being used by farmers to spread manure and till the fields in preparation for planting. 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.

As these large machines travel the road, it is even more important than ever for farmers and motorists to take care to avoid disasters.

In the past 60 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 using horses to mow and rake hay, pull wagons and do routine chores. Much of the powered equipment 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 that 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.

An important 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 soon to be in full swing, it is especially important for motorists to understand that farm machinery has the right to be travelling 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 may be preparing to make a wide left turn.

Be sure that there is adequate room to pass and that there are not 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 and practice careful driving habits.

According to the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, 15,000 farm vehicles are involved in collisions on U.S. roads every year. Most are rear-end collisions that occur in daylight on dry roads. Installing and maintaining a SMV and other reflective markings can help warn motorists up to a mile away and are required by New York law.

Being in compliance with regulations may also reduce your liability in the event of an accident. The best reason for installing and maintaining proper markings and lighting is that it may prevent you, your family members or employees from becoming a victim of a collision.

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 phh7@cornell.edu.

Peter Hagar, agriculture educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Route 22, Suite 5, Plattsburgh, 12901. Phone 561-7450 or email Phh7@cornell.edu.