Make farm safety a top priority this harvest season

Richard Guebert Jr.

Climbing into the combine seat and hitting the fields each September always fills me with a sense of excitement and anticipation. Even after 48 years, there is no better feeling than looking out over a field of matured corn or soybeans. But, year after year I hear of yet another tragic loss of life due to a preventable work-related injury on the farm during harvest.

The agricultural sector is one of the most dangerous in America with 453 fatalities each year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data. Fall harvest, which typically kicks off in mid-September, is one of the busiest and most dangerous seasons of the year for agriculture workers.

For that reason, America has recognized the third week of September as National Farm Safety and Health since 1944. This year I challenge every Illinois farmer to make safety a top priority throughout the months of September and October.

Remember: There is no healthy farm without a healthy farmer heading the operation.

While farming is a highly rewarding occupation, it is a simple fact that there are certain safety measures that must take place to prevent injury or loss of life. A simple checklist can be used when operating heavy machinery to keep yourself and others on the farm safe. 

Many farm families work well into the evenings to harvest their crops and transport them to local storage facilities. Working all hours of the day, often in isolation, takes a toll on one’s body. It’s just as important to be mindful of your mental state as it is to ensure your physical safety.

Take note of how your body reacts to stress and look out for signs of fatigue such as drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, vision impairments and poor concentration. Finding 5-10 minutes to relax and recharge can provide that mental refresher needed before hitting the fields. 

Fall harvest ultimately means more farm equipment on the road. If you’ve never been in the seat of a combine or a tractor, you may not realize how difficult it is for farmers to see other vehicles while driving between fields. It is important for everyone – farmers and motorists – to stay diligent and keep one another safe during this busy season.

When operating large machinery and other equipment, it is good practice to keep slow moving vehicle (SMV) signs and lights clean. Dirt or debris covering critical safety features can lower equipment visibility and potentially deposit illegal and dangerous obstacles on the road. 

Consider also traveling in farm vehicles during less busy times of day when fewer motorists are on the road. No matter what, however, make sure you are aware and attentive when driving.

Motorists play a role in harvest safety, too. With so many people traveling on rural roads this season, it is up to all of us to drive responsibly. 

When driving behind slow-moving vehicles, drivers can stay safe with a few tips:

When driving behind large equipment, immediately slow down and remain several car lengths behind.

Before passing remember to look for a clear signal from the person in the cab of the combine or tractor and pass only when it is safe and legal to do so.

Be prepared to encounter slow-moving vehicles at all times of the day and night.

Farmers won’t be the only ones hitting the roads this fall. Truck drivers also play a critical role in the supply chain, transporting the food, fuel and fiber that each of us depends on.

Harvest is a time for celebration after a lengthy, often challenging growing season. It is my hope that my fellow farmers remain diligent during these long days and nights as we head into another bountiful harvest in Illinois. 

Richard Guebert Jr. is the president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit