Tilley column: Farm tractors share the road, too

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 19, 2011

Without a shadow of a doubt, every citizen in Rowan County has at least once in their driving career found themselves following behind an old greasy tractor. The most frustrating thing about getting behind a tractor is being forced to travel 20 mph in a 55 mph zone.
You find yourself perturbed, willing to partake in any dangerous maneuver that you normally would not think of doing on such busy highways. Next time you get behind a combine or tractor, there are a few things you need to remember. First, farmers who use public highways have no other choice. Furthermore, understand the challenges they face when moving large equipment and finally, make an effort to help them out. You do not want to hit them and they without a doubt, do not want to hit you.
According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, Rowan County is ranked 31 out of 100 counties for row crop production. This means that not only is Rowan County a leader in agriculture for the western region of the state, but it means citizens who find themselves behind farm equipment better get use to it.
Agriculture is one of the leading industries for economic growth in Rowan. However, some people ask, ěWhy do farmers need to drive on public highways?î The answer is simple. Our nation demands more food. With our population rate increasing exponentially, farmers simply seek out more acres to grow crops. Therefore, the greater the demand, the more farmers must be willing to travel were land is available. Americans demand three meals a day. The farmer is proud to deliver and meet that request.
Believe it or not, farmers in Rowan County take great steps in staying off main highways. The majority would rather travel more miles on a back country road than travel busy main highways. They do this in order to lower their risk of having an accident. Farmers have invested too much time, money and maintenance into the machines and equipment they use. The last thing they want to see is their John Deere combine rear ended.
Therefore, many farmers avoid major highways all together if they can. Farmers need to make sure that all farm machines are equipped with orange or red triangle reflector stickers or signs. Furthermore, farmers should use reflecting tape and plastic reflectors on the back of their tractors and on the sides of trailers and combine headers. Always check your equipment for proper safety lights and reflectors before leaving the farm.
Some of the greatest challenges farmers face when moving wide equipment is making sure they give traffic on the left room to pass. However, they also watch for signs, mailboxes, and other obstacles next to the highway on the right. Therefore, many have very little room to maneuver. It is vital for ordinary citizens to understand this. Next time you see a combine or wide tractor traveling down the highway towards you, slow down. As you approach them, maintain a slow, safe speed with an awareness of the traffic that may be behind you. Furthermore, one of the most important things to watch out for is the traffic behind the equipment. When a farmer moves over to the shoulder, he or she does so in order to give on coming traffic room to pass. Drivers behind the farmer may see this as an opportunity to go by. Unfortunately, they will find themselves in on coming traffic. Always be aware of such drivers. Only pass farm equipment when entering into a passing zone and even then, only do so when it is safe. In most cases, many farmers will pull completely off the highway in order to let traffic pass. Overall, drivers must be careful, be patient, and allow the farmer to do his or her job.
Types of farming machines to look out for are combines (both single and duel wheels), tractors (both single and duel wheels), highboy sprayers, and most importantly, tractors pulling planters, grain drills, sprayers, manure spreaders or sludge tankers.
If you have any questions concerning farm safety, please contact Scott Tilley at 704-216-8970 or email at scott_tilley@ncsu.edu.