Family promotes farm safety so legacies live on

Parker Smith and his father Carl Smith farm in AllertonIf Parker Smith needed a reminder about being safe on the family farm, he’d look at the ring finger of his left hand.

Parker’s real wedding ring spends a lot of time at home. He wears a less-sturdy version—one that could break off easily if it ever got caught on a Deere’s moving part—as he and his father Carl Smith, uncle Victor Smith and employee Mark Arbuckle grow, harvest and sell corn and soybeans south of Homer. Parker doesn’t want a repeat of the welding mishap his dad had with his ring years ago.

Or anything more grim.

Through a recent survey of local experts, farmers, high school ag teachers and incident data, Carle Center for Rural Health and Farm Safety  identified the four most-serious regional risks.

  • All-terrain vehicles (ATV)
  • Tractors
  • Chemicals
  • Grain

On the board of the Champaign County Farm Bureau, Carl promotes safety so operations like his family’s—now in its fifth generation—continue feeding our region and our country.

Such important safety messages will be the focus of National Farm Safety and Health Week Sept. 18-24—which features the theme “A Legacy to be Proud Of.” That’s why Carle Center for Rural Health and Farm Safety challenges each farm to identify and make one key safety change and share that via Facebook and Twitter using #Carle_FarmSafety.

“Farming thrives on family traditions, close relationships and helping hands,” Carle farm safety specialist Amy Rademaker said. “By adopting and sharing safety best practices, more farms will create legacies of safe farming.”

While the Smiths focus on a number of things to make sure they move grain with the greatest care and communication—because bin collapses and other calamities can happen so quickly—their primary piece of farm-safety advice is, “Know when to say when.”

“GPS and other advancements help us, but we still need to remind each other not to put in more hours than we should,” Parker said.

Rademaker agrees.

“While there are great benefits to using GPS in the fields, farmers must stay engaged and alert. We never want to see an incident happen because a farmer became complacent, distracted or even fell asleep,” she said.

Times certainly have changed.

Carl tells about when his predecessors dispatched their best mule team to France to help during World War I. Productivity looks very different from when farmers had to switch out horses or mule teams at lunchtime after harvesting a mere acre of corn.

Today, harvesting 120 or more acres a day is standard.

Taking breaks needs to be standard, as well.

“You don’t do anyone any good if you’re not here anymore,” Carl said.

Keeping track of safety, production and market prices are only parts of the equation for the Smiths and other farmers. Regulations mean the world’s food supply is the safest it’s ever been, Carl said, but they also mean added work.

“It’s a joy to be out on the tractor and not pushing papers,” he said.

Parker, who recently graduated from the University of Illinois, puts it simply.

“Without business skills, today’s farmer won’t be in business long,” he said, adding he’s happy to wear the new-technology hat to help keep the operation safe and current.

Another way to keep safe involves those of us who aren’t farmers.

In fact, Carl and Parker say farmers get a bad name when it comes to sharing roadways. While they strive to help anyone behind them by moving over when it’s reasonable, they can’t always do so or they’ll take mailboxes, fencing and power lines with them.

Parker Smith with sprayer“Don’t worry. You’ll get to work,” Parker said with a grin.

They know in a few short weeks they’ll relive their harvest-time routine of eating, working, going to bed and starting all over the next day.

And they’ll remind each other of the safety precautions they must take to continue their vital way of life.

“It’s stressful, but I love it,” Parker said. “There’s nothing like being out there with nothing but beautiful corn plants all around you.”