SALEMVILLE — Spring means the busy work of crop farming is underway, as producers across the county are on the move, tilling and planting to start the annual work of husbandry that ends with the fall harvest.
Bedford County Farm Bureau is hoping motorists will be patient and understanding when large, slower-moving farm vehicles and implements take to public roads this year.
The bureau held a news conference Tuesday at Golden Rule Farms in South Woodbury Township, where farm tractors and the equipment they pull flanked Bob Detwiler, president of the county farm organization, and others gathered to note Rural Road Safety Week.
Detwiler and his brother, Allen, joined with Joe Diamond, regional organization director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, to alert drivers “that larger, slow-moving farm vehicles and equipment are once again traveling” Bob said, as they move from field to field and farm to farm.
Allen said producers are cognizant that their machinery holds up traffic, but farmers, generally, try to avoid being on roads at the busy times.
According to preliminary data from the state transportation department, there were eight people killed in crashes involving farm equipment in 2018. In 2017, there were 106 crashes, five fatalities, and 64 injuries involving farm equipment.
Farm machinery is large, wide and moving around 30 to 35 mph at top speed.
“When we’re being followed, we do hold up traffic,” Allen said.
To alert motorists, equipment often is fitted with an assortment of lights, whether for brakes or turning, to light up the road or simply to let others know they are on the road.
State law requires tractors that are operating between sunset and sunrise to have reflective marks and at least one flashing or revolving yellow light or yellow strobe light.
If the tractor, combine or other machine is between 14 feet 6 inches and the current maximum width of 16 feet, it must be followed by a vehicle displaying an “oversize load” sign and also must have a continuously activated hazard signal lamp.
State Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., who also attended the news conference, said the width restriction is about to change.
Langerholc was the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 338, which has passed the Senate. He expects it to be approved by the General Assembly and go to the governor’s desk for his signature soon.
“It’s a tough business and it’s getting tougher,” Langerholc said about agriculture, the number one industry in Bedford County.
Langerholc said in a Senate memorandum earlier this year, “the standard width for many combines is in excess of the current 16-foot width restriction, placing our farmers in danger of being cited merely while performing farming duties on their own land.”
He called the bill to allow for expansion for farm vehicles “one more tool to help you guys do what you do.”
The concern farmers have for safety is as much for motorists as for farmers themselves.
Allen Detwiler noted that a typical tractor can weigh about 23,000 pounds. And, Diamond, pointing to the metal edges of a disc harrow, said they could damage a vehicle if someone doesn’t properly clear the equipment being pulled behind the tractor.
Diamond said motorists should be aware that the driver of a combine cannot properly see a vehicle traveling behind. The combine at the Detwiler farm measures about 21 feet in length and is 13 feet wide. The rule, he said, is if you can’t see the driver’s mirrors, he can’t see you.
He also used the example of a tractor pulling a disc and then a harrow behind the disc to demonstrate how long a distance it can be to clear the farm machinery in tow. The implements are about 50 feet in total length.
Allen Detwiler said if a motorist doesn’t get around all of it, “you as a motorist will lose.”
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert said both farmers and the driving public must look out for one another.
“We believe costly accidents can be avoided, serious injuries can be prevented and lives can be saved if farmers and motorists look out for one another on country roads,” he said.
The Farm Bureau is holding news conferences across the state for Rural Roads Safety Week.