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Simple Tips for a Safe Harvest Season

October 10, 2023

We all have a part to play to make sure we are taking care of ourselves and others during this crucial time in our neck-of-the-woods.  With farming being the main economic driver of our communities, working together on harvest safety is of the utmost importance during this time. 

Iowa State University has shared some safety tips for both farmers and the general public to consider during this time.  Please see those tips below: 

5 Steps for Farmers

1.       Keep your machine’s safety features, mirrors and windows clean both in and out of the field

Grain carts are one of the most commonly used pieces of equipment during harvest, but they also have the most potential for blind spots. With few lights on the back of the cart and large areas of obstructed visibility, it’s important to keep the safety features available in good working order. Check your cart’s turn signal and brake lights prior to leaving each field to ensure safe operation down the road. 

Be sure to regularly wipe any dust or debris from safety reflectors, lights, and mirrors on your grain cart both in the field and on the road, as well as those on your combine, tractor and gravity wagons. If your cart or wagon doesn’t come with turn signal lights, a backup strobe like this one can be used to make your implement more visible in low light situations. Keep glass cleaner and paper towels or rags in your cab to clean your machine daily, and prevent accidents that can occur from not seeing a car or other obstacle on the road.

2.       Inspect your PTO’s safety shields for all operation

The Power Take Off (PTO) can cause severe injury without proper safety precautions. NEVER step over the PTO shaft, either while it is running or when it is not in operation. This includes a tractor and grain cart combination as well as a tractor attached to an auger against a grain bin. It is always better to take few extra seconds and walk around the equipment. 

Inspect the guards on the PTO shaft every season. With the tractor turned off and the key stored in the operator’s pocket, use one hand to spin the shield 360°. If the guard can spin without stopping or turning the power drive train, the shield is working properly. If the guard does catch or rub at any point in time, the guard should be repaired or replaced before being put back into service. Don’t forget to check the PTO shafts on the combine head as well to prevent crop from getting tangled around the shaft.

3.       Look out for stray metal and other debris

After the storms over the past few years, pieces of metal and other debris may have found their way into your fields. Be observant as you harvest your fields and watch out for large debris that could seriously damage your machines and slow down your harvest. If you do experience a plug in your corn head, follow this procedure to safely remove it.

· Bring the combine to a stop and back up a few feet so the head of the combine is located over harvested crop.

· Bring the combine’s threshing element to a slow speed on idle.

· Open the deck plates as wide as they will go.

·    Using the reverser switch for the head, lightly bump the switch in reverse a few times to see if the plugged material becomes dislodged. If the material does not become dislodged, stop running the head. Constant running of the head can cause damage to the slip clutch, making it weak and creating excess heat.

·    Follow the combine lockout procedure before ever working around or under a raised combine head. Make sure all hydraulics and shafts are removed from the combine and safety cylinder block/stops are applied.

·    Using cut resistant gloves, grab a handful of material at a time and slowly begin pulling it out of the snapping rolls. Be careful; there is likely to be something lodged in the snap rolls and it could be sharp objects such as nails or sheet metal.

4.       Be aware of your crew’s location

A good practice is to honk the horn of the combine or tractor three times before starting the machine or engaging the components so other members of your crew know the machine is moving, and to give them time to move out of the way and remove themselves from moving parts.

5.       Check your tow ropes and chains when extracting any stuck equipment

While not every area in the state may have this problem each season, it is important to know how to stay safe when pulling out a stuck tractor or combine. When possible, use tow ropes in good condition instead of chains. If only chains are available, inspect them to make sure both ends are in good condition and the chain itself does not have any broken, bent, or weak links. Be sure that the machine you pull with and the chain are large enough to tow the weight of the stuck machine. Never stand between a stuck vehicle and the implement towing it. Chains and ropes can break and will seriously injure anyone in their path. It is best to stand far way and communicate with the operator of the equipment using either cell phones or two-way radios.

Farm safety tips credited to co-authors:  Ben Covington, Ryan Berman, & Matt Darr of the Iowa State University Extension Office, 2020

6 Steps for Road Safety During Harvest

1. Slow down immediately when you see farm equipment ahead of you on the road. Farm equipment isn’t very fast, think 15-20 mph on the road on average perhaps. If you are driving 55 mph, you are covering around 80 feet per second; it won’t take very long to be right on top of a slow-moving vehicle.

2. Be patient and wait to safely pass farm equipment. Unsafe passing was one of the primary factors of a lot of our motor vehicle accidents we responded to in the fall.

3. Along those same lines, be careful when approaching on-coming farm equipment. Oncoming vehicles might not be as patient as you are and pull out suddenly to pass the farm equipment—right into your path.

4. Farm equipment often has to make wide turns, so be aware of that and help out by being patient and giving them room to turn.

5. Since some of the equipment is fairly wide, you may still have to edge out on the other side of the road, further than normal; even though growers are very good at getting over as far as they safely can to let you by. Road shoulders can be notoriously tricky; they are even more challenging when the ground is as wet as it is now.

6. Harvest seems to amplify deer movement both day and night. Watch your speed and scan your surroundings for them as you drive. Like anything else, situational awareness will help reduce risk.

Road Safety Tips credited to author Clarke McGrath, Iowa State University Extension Office, 2016

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