ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) — Ah, planting season — that magical time of year when spray rigs and tractors pulling planters or tillage equipment must share the road with over-caffeinated commuters, soccer moms and truck drivers.
The season is ripe for traffic accidents, so we visited with two farmers, Stephen Ellis of Virginia and Jennifer Campbell of Indiana, for advice on how to make it to the field and back safely.
Where Ellis farms in historic coastal Virginia, roads were not built for modern farm machinery. “Most roads are 16 feet wide and run around old property lines from the 1700s,” he explained to DTN. “They’re curvy and closely bordered by woods on each side.” Ellis’s fields, which average around 25 acres in size, spread out across 50 miles and three counties.
Campbell, who farms row crops and raises hogs in central Indiana with her husband and in-laws, has wider roads to navigate, but they can get crowded. “We live in a very urbanized county, so we fight a lot of traffic to get to some of our fields,” she said. Her family’s operation spans two counties, and some fields are 15 to 20 miles from the home farm.
Here are their top tips for staying safe this spring:
1. CONSIDER THE TIME OF DAY (WHEN POSSIBLE)
In a compressed spring like this one, when fields are ready and the weather is cooperating, farmers have to move quickly, Campbell noted.
But when possible, she and her family avoid driving farm equipment during high-traffic hours. “For example, we hate trying to move on Sunday after church, and we probably would avoid moving equipment at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday,” she said.
Both Campbell and Ellis also avoid night driving. “There’s just no way for people to see around the turns and react quickly enough,” Ellis said.
For some farmers in fully urbanized, high-traffic areas, however, moving at night can actually be safer, Campbell noted.
2. KNOW YOUR BLIND SPOTS
Farm equipment can put drivers well above the flow of traffic and give the illusion of a perfect view. But blind spots still happen.
Campbell is always on the watch-out for tailgaters. She often drives a John Deere 4640 with a split-row Kinze planter that lifts and pivots for transport.
“So I’m very long,” she explained. “The main thing I run into is people want to get too close behind, and I can’t tell they’re back there.”
3. PLAN TO PULL OVER AND PICK YOUR SPOT WISELY
Ellis spends most of his road-driving moments thinking a mile ahead. “Always assume someone is coming around the turn,” he advised. “Slow down and have a plan of action where you’re going to go if you meet someone.”
For especially big equipment, consider using a lead car with flashing lights, he added.
Both Ellis and Campbell favor large fields as pull-over spots — as long as they’re unplanted. Wide driveways can work, too, but watch out for mailboxes and telephone poles, Ellis warned.
Keep an eye out for how steeply a road drops off, and remember that a pull-over spot needs to be long enough for both the tractor and the implement it’s pulling, Campbell said.
Avoid the bottoms of hills or curves, even if you can see the road is clear ahead, she added. “Just because you’re sitting up tall and can see, the people in the cars can’t,” she noted. “Make sure they can see that it is safe to go around you.”
4. SOMETIMES SLOW IS SAFEST
If she pulled over for every car she encountered, she would never make it to the field, Campbell is quick to point out.
Making other drivers wait is often safest, Ellis agreed.
“We’ve learned it’s easier to make someone just stay behind you sometimes,” he said. “Just drive until you reach a safe spot to pull over.”
Avoid the urge to rush, and keep a safe speed, Campbell added. She has noticed a tendency among drivers to make right turns in the direction that farm equipment is coming and realize too late that the road isn’t wide enough to pass them.
The slower you are going in these cases, the more quickly you can grind to a halt if necessary, she said.
5. WHEN TROUBLE ARISES, STOP AND ASSESS
When things get messy, Campbell recommends simply stopping in your tracks.
“If you get into a situation you’re uncomfortable with, stop the tractor,” she said. “Just get off the road as far as you can, stop and let traffic sort itself out. If I’m sitting still, most likely nothing that happens will be my fault.”
Campbell has encountered so many confused car drivers in her years farming that she wrote an article on her blog, Farm Wife Feeds, to explain what the tractor driver sees and how car drivers should react.