2016 harvest challenges and safety tips for farmers

September 21, 2016 10:22 AM
Blog Post

Safety is always a priority for farmers at harvest, but this year may push us harder than most. If our current wet weather pattern continues into the fall, it could be a muddy, difficult 2016 harvest season.

2016 harvest challenges

This year, we’ve had one of the longest stretches of wet weather in August that I can recall in a long time. I was talking to some growers this week both in Southwest Iowa and at the Farm Progress Show; they are starting to get nervous about field conditions in some parts of Iowa. Yes, things can change in a hurry, but regardless of how dry it is between now and harvest, it won’t take much rain to turn portions of these fields into a muddy mess. Our subsoil moisture is full or nearly full, so it will likely take longer for fields to become “fit” after any significant rainfall. I see a lot of areas where there are side hill seeps- which we usually see in spring/early summer- not in the fall. Running combines and grain carts in these fields will be challenging. Not only do we worry about getting stuck or making tracks, but with the ground this wet another big issue could be soil compaction.

Anyway, wet or not, there are some common safety themes that come to mind from both the farmer perspective and the non-farm view as well:

  • Fatigue. From a farmer perspective, fatigue is a huge issue. Growers, their families, and employees work long, hard hours in the fall every year. Potentially wet harvest seasons like this could just ramp up the stress and lead to even longer work days when they can get into the field.
  • Being extra careful around any equipment is critical. Polish up or replace those large slow moving vehicle signs, and make sure all the lights and bulbs on all the equipment is working well.
  • Shutting things down when doing any sort of service work. Lock hydraulic cylinders in place or other recommended safety precautions when working on corn or bean heads.
  • Watch overhead lines when moving augers or other tall equipment, and steer clear of any operating augers.
  • Safety procedures in grain bins

There is a long list of things that can go wrong in an instant. In training, on active duty as a firefighter, and as an EMT, I encountered all sorts of scary/unfortunate situations. In almost every incident, very experienced people were involved in accidents that evolved from doing something they had done over and over, safely in the past. Most of the time, completely unforeseen events led to rapidly escalating emergencies. Things like equipment malfunctions, fatigue, a seemingly insignificant change in procedure, or some other unexpected variable enters the equation. Occasionally, these factors lead to a cascade of events that can lead to equipment damage or personal injury. Thankfully, most of the time this doesn’t occur. Following safety procedures and staying vigilant can certainly put the odds more in favor of the growers. We can’t prevent all incidents, but implementing strong safety principles can reduce the odds of incidents or reduce the magnitude.

Look for Clarke's blog post tomorrow on driving and road safety tips during harvest season!

Related articles:
Q & A with Clarke McGrath on Harvest Safety
Farm Safety: Avoid Slips and Falls During Harvest Season
Combine Adjustment for Fall Harvest





Clarke McGrath On-Farm Research and Extension Coordinator - Iowa Soybean Research Center

Clarke McGrath currently serves as the On-Farm Research and Extension Coordinator.

Prior to joining Iowa State University, McGrath spent nearly a decade as a retail agronomist and manager in the GROWMARK system, earni...