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Prepare for the worst

Cowtowns & Skyscrapers: You can plan to be safe on the farm, but you should prepare for disaster.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

July 6, 2023

4 Min Read
Fire truck on road
EMERGENCY PREP: It may be time to review some of our safety precautions and our tools for the field and the farmstead. ghornephoto/Getty Images

We all have stories of family or friends in agriculture who have experienced medical emergencies in the field or on the farm.

Maybe we have our own stories to share of just-in-time first responders, of rushed drives to the closest hospital an hour away, of helicopter flights to trauma centers counties away.

In nearly every story there’s an element of luck, or divine intervention, that has a hand in ensuring that the patient goes home to their friends and family. The plastic shovel, found on the roadside, used to disengage a farmer from the downed power lines. Or the new employee who has EMT training and can stop the bleeding until the ambulance navigates to the field. Maybe even just the quirk of fate or a guardian angel who whispered “Slow down on this curve, you’re in too big of a rush”— helping us narrowly miss oncoming traffic.

All of us also have stories of friends and family in agriculture who started their mornings heading to the field, expecting just to harvest some grain or put up some hay, and never returned home that evening to their chair at the kitchen table.

One more time: Safety first

Friends, you’ve heard me and others tell you year after year: “Safety first out there.” We’ve used oceans of printer’s ink and miles of paper to warn you about PTOs, skin cancer and electrocution from overhead power lines. We’ve made videos about lagoon and grain bin entrapments, about safely handling livestock and about children’s safety on the farm. And the sheer number of pamphlets, brochures, safety posters and other printed giveaway materials distributed over the past 80 years has got to be close to filling the Grand Canyon.

Some of you have listened. Some of you have spouses who listened and who nagged you into changing your ways. And some of you won’t change until tragedy strikes too close to your own home.

Rethink kit, protocols

I’ve been thinking about farm safety a bit here lately. More now that I’m older and slower that I was in my 20s. And I’m rethinking my safety protocols, and what I carry in the kit that I take with me on the road.

Maybe you should, too.

  • Fire. We all have fire extinguishers, but have we had them checked lately? And does everyone on the farm know where they are located and how to use them?

  • Bleeding. Being able to stop trauma bleeding and stabilize a patient until the EMTs can arrive can be the difference between life and death. Invest in upgraded first aid equipment and supplies and learn how to use them.

  • Heart attack. Farmers are an aging population, and many aren’t as fit as they once were. Strenuous tasks can put a strain on even fit people, too. Be aware of the warning signs of a heart attack (chest pain; shortness of breath; pain in the jaw, neck, back, arm, shoulder; nausea or light-headedness), and have a plan to respond. And consider buying a portable automated external defibrillator (AED) for the farm, and training family and farm employees on how to use it to stabilize the patient until help arrives.

  • Training. Maybe the most important tool we can have in an emergency is our own training. I know safety seminars are time-consuming, but don’t you think a day or half of a day is a cheap price to pay for the life of someone you care about — or your own? Call your local hospital or your fire department and ask if they offer first aid training that can be tailored to your farm. Maybe they could use your farm as a training spot for their staff and volunteers. Ask if your local 4-H or your county Farm Bureau might coordinate a farm safety training day. And encourage your farm employees to be volunteer rural firefighters — not only will they pick up valuable emergency response skills, but they’ll also be serving the community.

Now, I know it’s impossible to prepare for every emergency on the farm. I know that we can take all the precautions in the world, and accidents will still happen. Still, we must educate ourselves and our employees, our neighbors and our family about how to respond in case the worst happens.

Here’s hoping none of us ever need to use the preparation.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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