Shorter days could mean danger for farmers

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Harvest is late this year due to a wet spring, and that has some local farmers worried about their safety. When they start to bring in their crops, their ma-chinery will be sharing the road with faster vehicles as nightfall a...

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Harvest is late this year due to a wet spring, and that has some local farmers worried about their safety. When they start to bring in their crops, their ma-chinery will be sharing the road with faster vehicles as nightfall arrives earlier and earlier each day.

"Out here in the farming community, there's a lot of nervous tension, because were proba-bly about one month behind when we'd be harvesting," said Garry Niemeyer, an Auburn farmer. "If (the general motoring public) could just slow down a little bit and save lives, it would be very helpful for everyone involved."

Crashes involving combines and other farm equipment with vehicles such as cars, trucks and motorcycles are more prevalent in the fall anyway. Allen Entwistle of the Mechanics-burg area agrees with Niemeyer that a later-than-usual harvest creates even more potential for disaster.

Because of the wet spring, many farmers didn't begin planting until late May, putting the harvest season back 30 to 45 days, or continuing well into November.

"The machinery is over-width, so remember that when you come up on the back of piece of equipment, it's running 20 to 25 mph, and youre running 55 or 60 mph," Entwistle said. "We're out on the roads, and we'll be out late with the late harvest, so it's going to be getting dark early. We're moving machinery in the dark because we're in a time capsule here of when to get this crop



Niemeyer said that when motorists see flashing lights on county roads or the highways, it means tractors or combines are traveling at less than 20 mph. Thats a good signal motorists should slow down.

Sharing the road already has proved fatal this year.

James H. Todd, 56, of Chandlerville was killed Sept. 17 when his Harley-Davidson motor-cycle collided with a tractor on the Chandlerville/Oakford Blacktop.

David D. Sandidge, 57, of Chandlerville, was driving a tractor eastbound in the north ditch of the blacktop, a little east of Cass County Highway 2. The tractor was pulling a mower, and Sandidge tried to make a U-turn out of the ditch about 4:40 p.m. to head west on the blacktop.

As the tractor turned, Todd tried to stop, but the motorcycle struck the rear tire of the trac-tor and Todd was thrown from the bike, state police said.

Another danger at harvest time is combine fires, which can happen in dry conditions when cut crops build up inside the machines, said Matt Montgomery, the Mason County director of University of Illinois Extension.

"That usually tends to happen where you can't get to a shed in time or you're into an area where you have a lot of crop that needs to get taken out, and you're in an area that's really dry anyway," he said. "There is a propensity for that to become a field fire as well."


Niemeyer said almost every farmer he knows has fire extinguishers on their combines. Niemeyer himself has been involved in two combine fires that happened in the middle of a field.

"The best thing to do is to get out of the field as quickly as possible," he said. "(A combine) has tires, it has diesel tanks, a lot of things like grease that can make the situation a lot worse if you dont get out of the field as soon as possible."

Chatham Fire Chief Philip Schumer said field fires are on the decline in the Chatham area, something he believes is partially attributed to suburban sprawl.

"Last year, I bet if we had four we were lucky," he said. "We've been really fortunate and I dont know if its because Chatham's a little more sprawling than it was 10 years ago."

But encroaching residential areas also can prove problematic for farmers, Schumer noted. The Chatham Fire Department has responded to field fires caused by unattended bonfires or burned-off gardens next to agricultural fields.

"People aren't taking the precautions and they aren't thinking of the weather conditions, and mishaps like that occur," Schumer said. "For the farmer, it's a loss."

People who operate farm equipment need to have multi-purpose extinguishers, which can be used on oil and gas fires as well as for straw and other materials, Montgomery said. The operators also need to know where the extinguishers are on the machines and how to use them.

All extinguishers should be checked and charged as recommended by the manufacturer before harvest begins.


Cell phones, too, are a must, especially in situations where overheating can occur, Mont-gomery said. Operators also should have someone nearby who can monitor their equipment, just in case.

"You can go through the field without realizing you have a bolt that's a little hot or having something hot thats causing the chaff to burn," Montgomery said.

Grain bins are another potential danger for farmers who are emptying their combines and trucks. Exposure to crop dust can lead to health problems such as bronchitis, Montgomery said. For that reason, tight-fitting masks can help farmers avoid respiratory problems.

Tight-fitting clothes also are a must, Montgomery said, because loose clothes easily can become wrapped in machinery or sucked into it.

There's the danger of falling into a grain bin as well.

On Jan. 26, a 60-year-old man was trapped in a quarter-full 50,000-bushel grain bin outside Chatham after he got his foot stuck in an auger. When authorities arrived, he was chest-deep in soybeans.

"It's really easy to get caught in the flow of grain this time of year," Montgomery said. "It's just pretty important for producers to be reminded there are safety issues and to make sure they don't cut corners."

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