Safety on Rural Roadways

by Patrick Kirchhofer, Peoria County Farm Bureau

The time for corn and soybean harvests in the Tri-County Area will soon be here. The corn was planted under ideal conditions in April. The soybeans were planted in more of a sporadic basis, as the rains began to fall in May and seemed to accelerate in June. Nonetheless, if farmers were able to get a good plant stand established and keep the excessive rainfall drained off of the fields, yield potential should be very good this fall.

This is the third year in a row that we have had an abundance of rain in the spring and well into the summer months of June and July. The age-old term "rain makes grain" will come into play on the well-drained fields. Last year, Peoria County had good yields, although not as good as in 2008 when we surpassed the 200-bushel-per-acre yield for corn.

Good yields will result in a lot of grain being transported on rural roads. Trucks, tractors and wagons will be prevalent once again this fall as harvest begins in mid-September. Remember safety first when sharing the road with slower-moving farm machinery. The orange triangular emblem displayed on the back of farm equipment is your sign that the machinery is moving at a slow rate of speed, usually between 10 and 20 miles per hour.

As a motorist, what do you need to look out for when approaching farm machinery on rural roadways? One of the most dangerous situations is when the combine, tractor or truck is making a left turn into a field or farmstead. The farm equipment operator will have to know if a vehicle is behind them and whether that motorist knows they will be crossing the oncoming lane to make the left turn. With wider, longer and taller farm augers and wagons, it is difficult for operators to see what's behind them. Extended mirrors are installed on some tractors for better visualization, and some modern grain-hauling equipment even has miniature cameras mounted on the towed equipment so the visual is transferred to a screen inside the tractor cab.

Another situation to keep cognizant of includes bridges, mailboxes, electrical poles or other obstructions that will force the machinery operator to utilize more of the roadway when passing over or around them. Bridges narrow the roadway significantly for farm equipment, and as a motorist following behind or approaching this situation, please slow down and wait until the farm machinery is past this section.

Most modern farm machinery also has flashing amber lights, turn signals and tail lights. Flashing amber lights are merely a warning for motorists that the equipment is moving slowly and do not necessarily mean it is turning. If machinery is turning and lights are working properly, one amber light will stay lit continuously while the other keeps blinking. At any rate, and as always, approach and pass with caution.

It is often frustrating for motorists who get stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle. You may wonder why the machinery operator doesn't pull off to the side of the road and allow vehicles to pass. Under many circumstances, that would be appropriate; in other situations, it is not possible. With the wet weather we've had this year, and especially last fall, the grassed area on the side of the road is going to be very wet. If there is grass growing, there's soil beneath and if it's been raining, it's going to be muddy. Looks can definitely be deceiving in these situations. The farm machinery operator risks getting stuck or possibly tipping the wagon over if one side of the wagon sinks into the mud or a ditch.

I witnessed a situation like this last fall. Due to wet field conditions, the machinery operator left the wagon and tractor along the road, pulling it to the side to allow for vehicles to pass, which left one side of the tractor and wagon wheels on the grassed area. As the wagon was filled with grain from the combine harvesting the field, it inconspicuously began to sink on one side and nearly overturned. The situation could have easily gone from bad to worse. The grain had to be augured onto another wagon to relieve this situation.

This upcoming harvest season, enjoy your rural travels and please be patient with slow-moving farm machinery. Farmers will be anxious to reap the benefits of another long growing season in which they've placed many financial risks. The grain they're harvesting and hauling impacts your lives everyday—from the food you eat, to the clothes on your back and the shelter of your home. iBi 

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