Every harvest season brings a set of unique challenges for farmers to navigate, and the 2020 harvest season will be no different. The season will present many farmers with the obstacle of harvesting millions of acres of wind-damaged crops in the midst of a pandemic as drought conditions spread across the Midwest.
“As farmers gear up for long hours in the field, the combination of field conditions, fatigue and frustration can lead to deadly accidents if proper precautions aren’t taken,” said Jason Berkland, associate vice president of Risk Management at Nationwide. “It’s critical that farmers use three tools to prepare for the busy harvest ahead: planning, preparation and patience.”
Develop a plan for the normal bottlenecks you face every year, including some planning for the unexpected and unforeseen events.
“Farmers need to be aware of field conditions and remain vigilant for the presence of hazards, such as foreign debris blown in from storms or washouts from heavy spring rains,” said Berkland. “Excessively dry conditions can also warrant extra fire precautions like ensuring fire extinguishers are attached to equipment and charged, off-season maintenance has been performed and plans are ready for how to deal with a possible field fire.”
Following the August Derecho’s impacts, many farmers will also need to make difficult decisions on the harvestability of damaged crops. Growers should keep in close contact with their crop insurance agents regarding damaged crops.
Further, farmers should plan for handling a wide variety of grain conditions and identify additional grain storage options if bins have been damaged. Through its Grain Bin Safety advocacy campaign, Nationwide shares educational resources to help farmers manage grain quality and prevent dangerous entrapments.
Harvesting wind damaged crops may require additional equipment preparations. First, make sure equipment is ready to go, including replacing any fatigued parts, conducting routine maintenance, and ensuring adequate lighting, reflectors and machine guards are in place and functioning.
Combine headers and harvesters can be challenged by downed crops and proper adjustments to the headers, stalk rolls and gathering chains will be critical. Harvesting wind damaged crops often requires combine headers to operate close to the ground, and as a result, dirt, rocks and crop residue can require additional equipment maintenance.
“It’s important to lay out harvesting plans each day and communicate clearly with the harvesting crew before starting machinery,” said Berkland. “Farmers should also be sure to keep unnecessary people away from harvesting operations.”
Daily cleaning and inspection of harvest equipment will be also critical, especially as dry fields can turn a small ember into a raging fire quickly. Clean thoroughly in and around hot engine components and exhaust systems and inspect equipment for fuel and oil leaks, bearings starting to fail, and belt and chain alignments.
“It may be necessary to clean combines several times a day in extremely dirty conditions,” said Berkland. “Take the time to clean windows, mirrors and warning lights that allow you to see others, and others to see you.”
Most importantly, farmers should stick to the proper safety standards. Farm equipment is fast, aggressive and powerful. Farmers harvesting damaged corn will likely experience a machinery plug at some point in the harvest season. Before trying to remove a plug, it is important to remember to lockout the equipment and utilize any blocks, such as lift cylinders, to prevent tragedy. If a farmer tries to unclog a header with the machine running, they’re at significant risk of being pulled into the machine and suffering a devastating injury.
Farmers should also be aware of their own limitations. Be sure you and your crew are getting adequate water, sleep and mental breaks or help when needed.