During the first week of their summer semester at Rodale Institute, students in the Organic Farming Certification Program participated in tractor training alongside veterans in the Veteran Farmer Training Program. The two-day course was presented by Bob Brown and Mike Farbotnik, professors from Delaware Valley University.
Since fatalities can and do occur in agriculture from tractor rollovers and improper use of equipment, Brown and Farbotnik believe that safety is very important when performing any task on the farm. A solid education in tractor operation can eliminate much of the risk for beginning farmers and allow them to safely embark on their new careers in organic agriculture.
The course began in the classroom as Brown, a certified tractor-safety instructor with more than two decades experience, and Farbotnik, a farmer who has worked extensively with the Natural Resource and Conservation Services, shared their personal experiences. Next, they provided articles and handouts on tractor safety and led discussions with the students and veterans. Using props and videos, they demonstrated the various safety hazards present when working with farm equipment, including tractor rollovers, power take off (PTO) drives, and soil shear lines.
A PTO is a device that transfers an engine’s mechanical power to another piece of equipment that does not have its own engine or motor. This device can turn deadly quickly, due to its high-speed spinning, power, and location on the tractor. Many incidents have occurred where farmers get a piece of clothing caught in the spinning shaft and lose a limb or their life. Students were taught how to identify faulty safety guards, notice and correct loose clothing and never step over a PTO.
Brown and Farbotnik emphasized the importance of knowing proper steering maneuvers, the center point of gravity of one’s equipment, and rollover protection systems (ROPS). ROPS are similar to roll cages in cars and involve bars attached to the frame of the tractor that maintain a space for the operator's body in the event of a rollover. The implementation of these elements can prevent tractor turnover and decrease the risk of injury if a rollover does occur.
On the second day of training, Brown and Farbotnik led the class in a hands-on demonstration. The students and veterans learned about the anatomy of a tractor and its implements, then worked one-on-one with the instructors on each tractor: a 2040 John Deere equipped with a PTO-driven manure spreader, and a John Deere bucket loader outfitted with a hydraulic cultivator. Each student was asked to attach the implement to the tractor, drive the tractor through cones with the implement attached, start and stop the implement by using the PTO, and detach the implement afterwards.
Students and veterans filled out questionnaires pertaining to their knowledge of tractor safety concepts before and after training and saw an increase in their know-how of more than 150%.
A student in the Organic Farming Certificate Program reports, “I was always concerned about new farmer tractor accidents. Now I know why they happen and how to avoid them."
The safety of our future farmers is paramount. With this training, they have a solid foundation on which to build their organic farming futures.
Learn more about how the Organic Farming Certificate Program equips you to run your own small-scale organic farm.