Farm safety has always been a top priority for Iowa farmers throughout the year – especially at harvest season. But this fall, with the potential of record-breaking harvests, the task of protecting everyone on the farm will become even more critical as farmers push to get their crops in between the rains this fall.

With the big crops expected, reviewing safety protocol is crucial, according to Dan Neenan, a paramedic, and director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS)’s Safety, Transportation and Emergency Medical Services at Northeast Iowa Community College’s campus in Peosta.

"Working faster in the fall harvest can mean that it will be more dangerous," Neenan said. "Now, before harvest, is the time to get the harvesting equipment out and go through it to make sure slow-moving vehicle signs are clean and retro-reflective, all shields are in place and fire extinguishers are on harvesting equipment."

Keeping kids safe

According to the Marshfield Children’s Center, a child is killed every three days on a farm and 33 children are injured.

"Remember to follow the one-seat, one-rider policy," Neenan said. "Children should not ride as extra passengers unless they have their own seat and seat belt."

He said farmers can look to the North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks (NAGCAT) guidelines and tasks for children in the fall harvest season, which is available at

"Parents should talk to their children about farm safety if they are helping with the fall harvest," Neenan said.

Don’t rush, get rest

Brandi Janssen, director of Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH) at The University of Iowa, said that hurrying to get the work done is its own safety concern.  

"Rushing can lead to errors in judgment: stepping over moving equipment rather than walking around, not shutting down or fully engaging the parking brake when getting off of equipment, or just coming down from equipment too quickly and slipping or falling," she said.  

"In addition, when there is the threat of rain, farmers often stay in the fields as long as possible while the good weather holds," she added. "This leads to fatigue, which can also increase the risk of injury."

Neenan said farmers need to make sure they take rest breaks to eat, stretch and take medicines.

"It is especially important to eat if your medicines require that you eat, such as being diabetic," he said.

In addition, at harvest time, Janssen said a farm yard or drive where equipment is being moved is not a safe place for young children who may not be visible to the operator if they are around or behind the equipment.  

"Young children should not be allowed to ride on any implements, on the fender of a tractor or on the lap of the operator," she added. "We see tragic fatalities every year because children fall from moving equipment."

Janssen suggested some general tips to ensure a safe harvest season this year:

Most harvest injuries and fatalities involve equipment, so be sure to review the operating manuals and follow all maintenance guidelines.

Make sure all guards and shields are in place, in good condition and securely mounted.

Double-check that your slow-moving vehicle emblems and lighting are in place and in good working order.  

Check your route to make sure you can transport your equipment under powerlines, and over bridges and culverts.

Be aware of motorists; they may not be aware of you.

"Roadway incidents with farm equipment often happen when motorists underestimate how slow a tractor is moving, or when the tractor turns left as the motorist passes," she said. "Do your best defensive driving."

Schmitz is a freelance writer in Cedar Rapids.