Farm Progress is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Serving: United States
Corn+Soybean Digest

Harvest Fatigue Could Kill You

Nearly everyone has some horror story to tell about a debilitating or deadly farm accident.

For me, the tragic call came from my brother several years ago. My five-year-old nephew was killed after falling out of the tractor cab. The door suddenly burst open after the tractor hit a rock while planting. That horrible event changed many lives — forever.

It's no surprise, but usually farm accidents occur during peak work times — like planting or harvesting — when fatigue intensifies.

“We're now coming up on the most dangerous time of year for adults,” says Bill Field, Purdue extension safety specialist. “There are more accidents from entanglements, especially with augers and combine heads. We also see many fires during harvest.”

According to National Safety Council (NSC) data, agriculture has the second highest death rate record of any industry. Mining is first and construction is third.

One in five Minnesota farms, for example, will have an injury this year, says John Shutske, University of Minnesota ag safety specialist. Many will involve machinery and will occur during planting or harvest.

If you're more than 75 years old, the chances of a deadly accident more than doubles, from 21 per 100,000 for all ag workers to 57 per 100,000.

As much as Dad or Grandpa want to help out, maybe they shouldn't. Is that extra help really worth the risk of harming a loved one?

Besides the emotional consequences of farm accidents, they're costly. Based on 2003 NSC data:

  • Disabling injuries cost $4,550,000,000

  • Fatalities cost $803,000,000

  • Total cost of $5.35 billion

  • Cost per farm of about $2,514

This assumes $1.1 million per death and $35,000 per injury. It does not, however, include cost of downtime, Shutske says, which can run in the best fall weather conditions at $100-325/day.

Without question, the combine is the most dangerous machine on the farm, says Dick Nicolai, farm safety specialist at South Dakota State University. To prevent disasters during harvest, establish good habits and think through potential hazards.

Here are a few crucial safety tips:

  1. Grease and check the combine in the morning while you're fresh. Put the key in your pocket so no one can start the combine.

  2. Drive the combine while you're alert and take a break every two to three hours.

  3. Use safety stops on the header lift cylinder, and don't trust hydraulics with your life.

  4. Move combines on public roads only during daylight hours.

  5. Have fire-fighting equipment (10-lb. minimum ABC dry chemical extinguisher) on the combine. Two extinguishers is even better, one in the cab and one near the ground.

Please, please be extra careful this fall during harvest.

Apply For Conservation Awards

It's time to apply for the 2005 Conservation Legacy Awards. The national program recognizes outstanding environmental and conservation achievements of U.S. soybean farmers, and is sponsored by the American Soybean Association (ASA), Monsanto and The Corn And Soybean Digest.

Any ASA member who actively farms is eligible. Selections will be made from each of four regions: Western, Southern, Midwestern and Northeastern. Winners receive a trip to Commodity Classic Feb. 24-26, 2005, in Austin, TX. One national winner will also be selected.

Interested producers must complete an application form, due to ASA by Oct. 1, by calling 800-688-7692 or log on to ASA's Web site at

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.