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Sep 18, 2014
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April 2014 Archive for Farm Talk on the Front Porch

RSS By: Grinnell Mutual, AgWeb.com

You face risks as you cultivate crops and raise livestock. We’ll share tips, stories and recommendations to help you protect property and prevent costly losses on the farm. It's our Policy of Working Together®.

Three ways to make the farm a safer place to play

Apr 30, 2014

Outdoor play is a wonderful way for children to grow their minds and bodies, plus spring provides pleasant weather for playing in sandboxes, on playground equipment, or in the yard.

Grinnell Mutual makes the following recommendations to keep your children playing safe during planting.

See your farm through the eyes of your children.

"The kids that don’t grow up on the farm don’t know the risks," said Grinnell Mutual Farm Claims Manager Vicky Hartgers. "Kids will find their way to the barn chasing a cat or whatever the case may be. It’s not unusual to hear about a child run over by a piece of farm equipment by a family member. You need to be aware of where children are at all times."

It may help to view your farm as a child would.

"If you don’t have kids there all the time you’re not aware of those things. We walk around our place," said Hartgers, who also farms with her husband. "Look at the world of the farm through the eyes of a child. What do they see at their height? What is tempting to them? Keep those things cleaned up and picked up."

Fence farm animals away from the play area.

"Everybody wants to pet the calves and that’s not always the best place to be," said Hartgers. "Animal behavior is unpredictable when they are cornered or in a close situation."

Fence the farm animals away from the play area. It will keep both the animals and the children safe.

Designate a play area.

Build a fence or other barrier to border a safe play area. Homes and garages can be used as part of the boundary. Build the play area at least 50 feet from the majority of farm activity and roadways.

The play area should be free from pests, dangerous obstacles, debris such as old pieces of wood and metal, and open water. Grinnell Mutual recommends shade for play areas—at least 30 percent—to help shelter children from sun, wind, and dust.

"Keep the hazards clear all over the farm yard," said Hartgers. "Make sure the play space is a safe place."

For farm equipment, it’s one driver. No riders.

Apr 23, 2014

Many farm vehicles do not have safe spaces or safety restraints for passengers. Bumps, ditches, and uneven terrain can knock a passenger from a tractor. Passengers, especially young ones, can distract drivers and interfere with the safe operation of a farm vehicle.

Research from the National Agricultural Tractor Safety Initiative shows that using both tractor roll bars and seatbelts are 98 percent effective in preventing tractor-related injuries and deaths, but these safety features are intended for the tractor driver, not passengers.

"Everyone thinks it doesn’t happen to them and it won’t happen to them. It only takes one time," said Vicky Hartgers, farm claims manager at Grinnell Mutual. "Accidents happen, no matter how careful you try to be."

Tractor drivers often overestimate their ability to respond to runovers, rollovers, or other imminent tractor accidents. They think they can stop the tractor, especially if it is moving very slowly or no difficult tasks are being performed. According to the Iowa State University Extension, the most common comment from people involved in tractor runovers is how quickly they happen.

Creating a "No Riders" policy

So, how many riders should be allowed on farm vehicles? The best policy is a no riders policy. Grinnell Mutual recommends saying ‘no thanks’ to family, friends, and children who want to ride along. 

  • Drop a hint. Place NO RIDERS decals on farm equipment, reminding operators and potential passengers of the dangers.
  • Plan ahead. Keep transportation in mind for farm workers and arrange for suitable transportation (i.e., cars and trucks) to and from work sites.
  • Find a sitter. Do not let farm equipment serve as a baby-sitting service.
  • Just say no. Refuse to allow your friends and family to ride with you, no matter how nicely they ask.
  • Teach your children well. Instruct youth old enough to operate tractors that tractors are for work, not transportation.

Kids and farm equipment

"Kids are pretty persuasive," said Hartgers. "Safety still comes first, but there are things you can do to fulfill that wish for them to have a little bit of a ride."

The Iowa State University Extension says explaining what can happen to tractor riders may be a beneficial way to help children understand the no riders policy. Very young children may understand the fact that they aren’t allowed to ride other heavy equipment, such as road graders or construction vehicles.

Instead, offer children rides on farm vehicles designed for passengers, such as farm trucks or four-wheel drive vehicles. Another way to satisfy their curiosity is letting them sit in the operator’s seat while the engine is turned off and the key is removed.

Give teenagers appropriate tasks and training on the farm

Apr 17, 2014

To ensure a good experience for you and the teenagers working on your farm, Grinnell Mutual encourages you to take time to train them. According to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety (NCCRAHS), teens respond best to hands-on training.

Keys to working with teenagers

"Many farmers hire teenagers who live in town," said Vicky Hartgers, farm claims manager at Grinnell Mutual. "Often these teens do not have an agriculture background or a knowledge of agriculture. They aren’t aware of the risks around them on the farm."

When you train teenagers, don’t talk at them, interact with them. Use the tools and equipment, emphasizing key points. Model the behaviors you want to see in the teens working on your farm, especially awareness of the surroundings, respect and patience.

"Extra awareness—that’s the biggest thing to teach teens," said Hartgers. "Be aware of the unpredictability of animals when they are cornered or in a close situation. Teenagers not familiar with agriculture surroundings may think they can load bales of hay, but they may not know to account for a ditch or a hole in a rough field."

Demonstrate how to perform a task and then watch them perform the task. Correct mistakes and review proper procedures as needed. Seek feedback from them and ask questions. Avoid making value judgments about teens and accept that teenagers may give you little direct eye contact— it’s not a lack of respect. Train long enough to prepare them for the work and document the training in writing. 

"Take the extra time," said Hartgers. "Teenagers unfamiliar with agriculture may need more guidance at the beginning because they don’t understand the things that can go wrong. Have a training period where they work with someone who shows them the risks that are involved."

Grinnell Mutual recommends the following age-appropriate farm tasks for teenagers:

Age appropriate tasks: Ages 12-13

  • Hand raking and digging
  • Limited power tool use with supervision
  • Operating lawn mower or garden tractor
  • Handling or assisting with grooming animals

Ages 14-15

  • Maintaining equipment
  • Feeding livestock by hand
  • Raking hay
  • Operating a pressure washer

Ages 16-18

With specific training and close supervision, older teens may also be able to pull oversized loads and apply chemicals

For more information


Visit "Preventing Losses" on Grinnell Mutual’s website, grinnellmutual.com, for more than 30 safety talks you can share with your farm workers. To learn more about training teenagers to help on the farm, click here for information from the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety (NCCRAHS). 

Five tips to burn your brush

Apr 10, 2014

Fire can be a benefit for many farmers and rural property owners. Field fires can replenish nutrients in soils and burn piles can efficiently dispose of brush and tree debris.

Today, local fire departments will respond to an average of 915 brush, grass, and forest fires per day, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association. Nearly half of these fires are caused by high winds, hot embers, or debris and waste disposal, and many are preventable by planning and monitoring your burn. That is why Grinnell Mutual recommends following these five tips to plan your burn.

1. Check the forecast.

"Less wind is better," said Alan Clark, assistant vice president of Special Investigations at Grinnell Mutual. "People need to be mindful of how much wind there is on the day they want to burn. Wind is one of the biggest factors that causes fires to get out of control."

High winds account for roughly one out of every seven brush, grass, and forest fires in the U.S., according to data from the National Fire Protection Association. Never burn during red flag warnings or other wind advisories issued by the National Weather Service.

"Every year we get cases where buildings are destroyed because a brush fire got loose and burned the owner’s buildings or a neighbor’s," said Clark. "It’s not unusual."

2. Call the fire department.

Check with your local fire department to see if you need a burn permit. Also check to see if there are burn bans or other restrictions in effect.

"If you have questions about your burn, contact your local fire chief or fire department before you burn," said Clark.

3. Watch it burn.

"You can’t light it, take off for lunch, and leave it unattended. That’s when it gets loose," said Clark. "You think the fire is about out so you go home. An hour or two later you’re getting a call from the neighbor saying it’s burning out of control.

"You need to monitor what is going on with your fire," said Clark. "Be vigilant. Keep an eye on what’s going on."

"We have cases where property owners will burn off native prairie grasses," said Clark. "People don’t realize how hot a field fire can get and how far it can jump a ditch. It burns very fast."

4. Keep your distance.

"More distance is better. At a minimum you want your fire at least 50 feet from any structure," said Dave Miller, director of Special Investigations at Grinnell Mutual. "If it’s a burn pile, put your burn in a protected area. Control the situation."

"If you are burning off a field, separate the field that’s burning from additional areas you don’t want to burn," said Clark. "Create a fire break. Run a disc through the field to keep the fire from jumping."

5. Extinguish embers.

Hot embers cause nearly one of every six brush, grass, and forest fires. During the fire, flying embers may land beyond the area you want to burn starting new, unintended fires.

After the fire, make sure the fire is out. Use a rake or shovel to check for hot spots and pour water on the coals.

Checking the forecast, watching your fires, and tending to burned areas will help you have a safe and successful burn. 

Six habits to hitch your farm equipment safely every time

Apr 03, 2014

 Many of the 2.2 million farms in the United States are stirring to life, preparing fields for spring planting and transporting livestock. Grinnell Mutual recommends taking a few extra moments to inspect your farm equipment and properly hitch it to your farm vehicles.

1. Inspect the equipment.

"Rust seems to be the biggest issue because the equipment often sits outside," said Grinnell Mutual Farm Claims Manager Vicky Hartgers. "Inspect the areas where you see rust because the hookup may break in half or pull apart."

2. Put it in park.

Put your tractor in park before you hook up equipment or make adjustments. This secures the tractor on both hills and flat ground. In wet or muddy conditions, it prevents drivers from accidentally putting the tractor in gear if they slip or catch clothes on a knob or lever. 

hitch3. Use the right hitch pin.

Don’t use just any bolt found on your farm or in a drawer to hitch your equipment. Hitch pins are designed to fit the hitch-pin hole without excessive movement. In addition, they are designed for tractor power ratings and loads.   

4. Hitch to the drawbar only.

The tractor drawbar is the only safe place to connect a load. Do not hitch higher than the drawbar as this may affect tractor stability. Improperly hitching higher than the drawbar may cause rear overturn where the tractor flips backwards. By hitching to the drawbar, you help ensure all pulling forces stay below the tractor’s center of gravity. 

The National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program recommends that the drawbar be placed midpoint between the rear tires to maximize pulling power. Hillside operations may require a drawbar adjustment to one side to balance the pulling forces.

5. Use safety clips and safety chains.

"The hitch pin has a safety clip on the bottom for a reason," said Hartgers. "Equipment comes unhooked. Sometimes pins come out when they’re going down the roadway. How heavy you are, the incline, the speed you’re going—it makes a big difference."

Many manufacturers require safety chains be used to keep a load tethered.

"In case the hitch pin breaks or comes out, the safety chain will keep the load attached," said Hartgers. "Farmers have a tendency not to use those, but they’re there for a reason."

6. Unhitch the equipment.

Inspecting equipment and proper hitching may help prevent an accident on your farm this spring. When you complete the farm job, unhitch the farm equipment, said Hartgers.

"A big, long auger is susceptible to high winds. If it’s hooked to the tractor during a windstorm, it could flip them both."

To learn more about farm safety and other safety related information visit Preventing Losses on grinnellmutual.com

Three ways to prevent spring planting from being a shocking experience.

Apr 01, 2014

A farmer hitches the sprayer to the tractor for the annual ritual of preparing the fields for spring planting. The farmer climbs in the cab and starts the motor. The familiar, muddy path from the barn to the field crosses under several sets of aging power lines. Even though the lines look lower than they did last spring, the farmer drives the tractor and sprayer under the lines. The end of the sprayer catches the line, knocking down the live electrical line. The farmer is trapped until the utility company can cut power to the line. 

"Every year we see a tremendous number of claims on farm equipment due to utility lines, both on the farm and the roadway," said Vicky Hartgers, farm claims manager at Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company. "There’s no exception. It’s there every year."

The 2014 planting season does not need to be a shocking experience. As you prepare your equipment and fields this spring, follow these tips from Grinnell Mutual to avoid contact with overhead power lines on your farm.

1. Look up.

"Farmers often take the same routes to fields each year," said Hartgers. 

Survey your route from barn to fields for overhead power lines. Are any of the power lines sagging? 

"It’s difficult to get out and measure a line. I think the awareness has to be there," said Hartgers. "The best way to do that is to watch. If you notice they are getting lower, call the local utility company to have them check those lines. They will send someone out."

Review the route and potential hazards with everyone who will drive farm equipment so they can steer clear of power lines.

"I think farmers are in the habit of assuming," said Hartgers. "The best advice is don’t ever assume that the line will always be in the same place. 

2. Obey the 10 foot rule.

Never get closer than 10 feet to an overhead power line. If overhead lines are present, OSHA recommends calling the utility company to find out what voltage is on the lines. Consider all overhead lines as energized until the utility company indicates otherwise, or an electrician verifies that the line is not energized and has been grounded.  

3. Don’t leave the vehicle.

If an overhead wire falls across your vehicle or equipment while you are driving, Grinnell Mutual recommends staying inside it and continuing to drive away from the line. If the engine stalls, do not leave your vehicle. Avoid touching metal on the vehicle and warn people not to touch the vehicle or the wire. Call or ask someone to call the local utility company and emergency services.  Never touch a fallen overhead power line.

"Report the power poles you see leaning along the highways and roadways. Someone from your local utility can check those," said Hartgers. "They are very good about responding. They also recognize  the situation when the lines are low. They know there’s a risk so they get somebody out there."

Materials in this article are adapted from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.


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