Monday, September 27, 2010

Harsh Realities

I spend a lot of time showing the bright side of farming; I insert humor, I try to exhibit the charming, magical side of farming that has me deep in love with rural Illinois.  The reality of it, however, is that farming has a darker side.  A scary side.

Over the nearly-6 years we've been dating, Farmboy has been careful to make sure I understand the dangers that are associated with farming.  There's dangerous equipment, there's heights to be dealt with, there's a million and one risk factors for one's physical well-being.  Farmboy has gotten nosebleeds because of soy bean dust, and I can't list the amount of times I've twisted ankles running through corn stalks or jumping down from tractors during harvest.  Those are small examples, but ones that aren't often thought of.  Safety has to be considered in every moment of operation on a farm.

Sometimes the physical danger gets more serious than that.

Over the weekend, Bossman looked at me and said, "So, did you hear about Dennis?"  Well, Dennis is a distant cousin of mine.  Truth be told, I know him primarily through Farmboy's family, because he's a good friend of Bossman's.  Dennis has also had quite the rash of bad luck in the last few years.  I was hoping, desperately, that what I hadn't heard about Dennis was, well, good news.

"No."

"Well, his combine burned to the ground."  Instantly, I had a rush of questions.  Was everyone alright?  How bad was the damage?  Did the field burn?

Apparently, the combine (and the half-tank of soy beans it was carrying) where the only things damaged.  No people were hurt, but everyone got a very good scare.  Dennis's son, Robert, was operating the machinery and escaped to safety in time.  And, thank God, the winds were blowing into the part of the field that had already been harvested.  Had the winds been blowing the other way, fire could have caught to the beans still standing.

Not only would Dennis have lost his combine, but an entire field's worth of product, that he'd planted and tended for the year.  First, everyone is thankful that no one was hurt.  Second, everyone is thankful that the field was left intact, for the most part.  Third, there is thankfulness for good insurance.  Dennis has already bought a new (to him) combine that will help him move on with his life after an especially scary experience for both himself and his son.  While the fire was essentially no one's fault, both consciousness of safety measures and good luck kept everyone involved safe, and the field standing.

Agriculture is full of risks.  Each year, people go out to work farm related jobs and never come back.  Whether it's because of grain bin collapses, risks associated with machinery, or health complications related to the hard labor, sun exposure, elements, and stress, there's always something to be conscious of when maneuvering life on a farm.  And every specialization has different risks.  This is only one instance of how something can go wrong on a grain farm.  New risks get brought in when you consider livestock, different crops and machinery, different methods, different locations, and different elemental situations.

Farmers and ranchers need to be safety experts.  They have to have the safety of their employees in mind.  They often have to be well-versed in how to keep guests safe on the farm, as well.  If you're interested in seeing some conversation regarding farm safety, check out the #AgChat discussion archives for September 14, 2010.  The discussion covered farm safety during harvest.

Thank you to Farmboy for snapping the pictures for me, and thank you to Dennis for letting me share the story of his combine.

As always, I'll tell all of you to stay safe and healthy throughout this year's harvest.

NOTE:  Look in the near future for a post containing pictures of said combine.  The realities are harsh, and safety is a very tangible concern on all farms.  I hope this reminds my farming and ranching friends to keep safety first, and shows my non-agricultural friends the truth of just how conscientious and hard-working today's farmers and ranchers are.

To see pictures of Dennis's combine, click here.

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