When Bill Field arrived at Purdue University in 1977 as the farm safety specialist, typically there were 30 to 40 farm fatalities per year. One-third of those were children. This past year, for only the second time since data has been recorded, no children were reported killed in farm accidents. That's for the time period that includes all of 2011.
Field would hope that educational efforts through Purdue Extension and the Indiana Farm Safety and Health Council have helped. The Council has distributed thousands of coloring books over the years to raise awareness of farm safety issues. Field even helped develop a special coloring book for the Amish community when five children, mostly Amish, were killed in one year a few years ago.
Part of the change, however, is simply a change in agriculture since 1977. When Field began his work in Indiana, USDA reported there were 100,000 farms in Indiana. That meant there were more children living on farms. Today, that number is about 60,000, and it includes what many people might consider hobby farms. The number of large, commercial farms devoted strictly to agriculture is much smaller, Field says.
While Field didn't mention it, others say the improvement in protective devices on farm machinery has also helped. A much higher number of tractors have rollover protective structures today than the tractors still in service in the late 1970s, although many older tractors from the 1950s and 1960s, still in use, may still not have ROPS protection.
Field also notes that the total number of fatalities doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't capture the countless insurance bills, pain and suffering, and changed lives for farm families when a member is badly injured, but not killed. Breaking New Ground and the Agri-Ability project, both outgrowths of Field's efforts, are aimed at helping families where someone has suffered a debilitating injury.