An article about tall crops leading to more rural traffic accidents that ran on IndianaPrairieFarmer.com and appeared in the February issue drew positive reactions about safety from readers. The article provided a jolt of reality in describing a real accident that claimed lives.
Sydney Burkhart, a Purdue University Ag Communications student, wrote the story based on an incident in her home county. The story was dedicated to Ronnie Mohr, Greenfield, a past Master Farmer who worked hard over to educate farmers and county and state officials about the need for a solution. Mohr passed away in December 2020.
Sonny Primus, Vincennes, Ind., issues a call for other farmers to do what he does: Leave off the two corn rows nearest the road for 300 feet leading up to an intersection. “I’ve done the math, and you’re talking about 7 bushels per acre,” he says. “I tell guys that most of us lose more than that in shelled corn that spills over the grain tank and falls off the combine cab. It’s a small investment to possibly save someone’s life.”
The math bears him out. If you’re raising 200-bushel-per-acre corn and leave off two rows for 300 feet, about the distance between many modern utility poles, you’re giving up the potential for 6 to 8 bushels per acre, depending on row width. And depending upon corn price, that’s roughly $20 to $30 per acre. In return, you’re increasing visibility at the intersection by a critical distance.
Primus says he’s aware of several accidents, some serious, which have happened over the years where he lives in southwest Indiana. You don’t need hills for intersections to be dangerous, he notes. They can happen on flat land if tall crops are planted to the edge of the road, all the way to the intersection, making it difficult to see until you begin pulling into the intersection.
That’s how the accident that claimed a life happened in the incident Burkhart described in the original article. “Counties have right-of-way, and when you plant right to the road, you’re definitely on the county’s right-of-way,” Primus says. It’s legal to use the right-of-way, but legal and smart may be two different things, especially at a rural intersection.
Another southern Indiana farmer also responded. His story was even more chilling. A few years ago, he and his family were involved in a wreck when a teenage driver pulled into their path at an intersection where vision was blind due to tall corn. The farmer’s wife and daughter sustained minor injuries, and a person in the other car spent a night at the hospital.
The farmer counted himself as lucky, aided by the big-framed car they were driving and “guardian angels.” But he notes that he has been gun-shy approaching intersections with tall corn during the summer and fall ever since.
If you’re not willing to lay over from the road near intersections while planting, do something to make it safer later, Primus suggests. That could include topping corn above the ear after pollination, or even pulling in and harvesting the area of a field along an intersection in the fall, even if you’re not ready to harvest the whole field.