If you have driven the back roads lately, you will have noticed that farmers everywhere have been taking advantage of the early spring weather.
Many acres of hay have been planted and some of it is already showing a green haze of growth.
Some farms have even started tillage of corn ground in preparation for planting. The spring tillage and planting season is one of the most important times of the year and, until this past week's rain, many farmers were beginning to worry about being too dry — a big change from last spring!
The rate at which a modern farmer can plow, plant and harvest has been increased greatly by technological advancements in the farm machinery required. As the size and scale of local farms has increased, the equipment needed to do the work in a timely manner has also increased in size and capacity.
In the past 60 years, farms have transitioned from horses and small, gasoline tractors to immense four-wheel drive articulated tractors that can do many times the work producing more crops, in less time, using fewer inputs than ever before.
In the 1940s, my father grew up on a local dairy farm and remembers still using horses to mow and rake hay, pull wagons and do routine chores. Much of the powered equipment, such as hay balers and corn choppers, was not pulled into the field but remained stationary, with the crops being brought to the machine for processing. Gradually over the following decades, farm machinery evolved into what we see today.
Farm safety has been a concern for many years. Agriculture in the United States is one of the most hazardous industries, only surpassed by mining and construction. Older tractors and farm machinery had few or no provisions for safety. Often tall and narrow, they had a higher center of gravity and were more likely to tip or flip over.
Today's tractors routinely come equipped with rollover protection, seatbelts, hazard lights and many other safety features. Modern electronics, disc brakes, rear-view mirrors, radios and even air-conditioned cabs all make the working environment less stressful and more productive. By reducing fatigue, modern tractors have increased safety and reduced accidents.
Another safety feature that has reduced accidents on the public roadways is the Slow Moving Vehicle, or SMV, sign. The SMV sign is an orange triangle with red florescent outline that is required to be mounted on the back of all tractors and implements that travel on public highways at speeds of 25 miles per hour or less.
With corn planting and hay harvesting in full swing, it is especially important for motorists to understand that farm machinery has the right to be traveling on the highway, and the operator may not be able to see you because the large equipment or a load can block part of their rear view. Before passing slow-moving machinery, you should look carefully to be sure the machinery is not turning left. Look for left turn lights or hand signals.
If the machinery slows and pulls toward the right side of the road, the operator may be preparing to make a wide left turn. Be sure that there is adequate room to pass and that there are not obstacles such as mailboxes or road signs that cause the machinery to move to the center of the road. To ensure a safe summer on our country roads, everyone should have a little extra patience, practice careful driving habits, and watch for the high-visibility markings and lights available on most new tractors and implements.
Modern agricultural machinery has come a long way with improved function and safety, but if you are curious about our heritage of rural and farm life in Clinton County and would like to get a better idea of how farmers lived and worked in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Babbie Rural & Farm Learning Museum in Peru has an impressive collection of old tractors, horse-drawn equipment, antique farm buildings and household items. The staff and volunteers have done a wonderful job of restoring and maintaining a piece of our local history.
For more information about farm safety, or for more information about the importance of agriculture in Clinton County, you can reach me at 561-7450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.