Farmers: It’s time to conduct an over-the-road safety checkup of your harvest equipment

Pre-harvest checkups of tractor, wagon and combine lights, SMV signs and reflectors are important.

With the 2013 growing season mostly in the books across the southern portion of Michigan, Michigan State University Extension recommends now is an excellent time to check the lights and reflectors and SMV stickers on your harvest equipment as we prepare for fall harvest operations.

One of the easiest and cost-effective things you can do to improve over-the-road safety is to check the reflectiveness of the slow moving vehicle (SMV) stickers and signs on your equipment. SMV signs fade with exposure to weather and age. The good news is that it is easy to renew the life of any SMV sign by adding a new sticker on top of the old one, and while you are at it, consider adding reflective tape to your wagons, trailers and other equipment. Reflective tape and fluorescent sticks can be added at the widest point of the implement, where practical, to help show the width of the equipment to passing motorists. While lights are the best way to warn approaching motorists that equipment is on the roadway, the beauty of the reflective tape is that it remains very visible if the lighting system fails. The SMV sticker is very important because it should tell motorist that a farm vehicle is ahead that is not capable of maintaining speeds greater than 25 MPH.

For on-coming traffic, the configuration of lighting on farm equipment can be confusing and sometimes blinding. Much of the newer equipment has yellow or orange rotating lights and reflectors incorporated in the warning system to help motorists recognize that a large piece of equipment is ahead. After-market strobes and reflectors can be added in similar configurations to older equipment to help increase recognition and visibility. In your pre-harvest maintenance checks, test all the lights to make sure they work and are aimed properly. Bulbs, wiring and fuses or circuit breakers can be issues on older equipment. Check both the “high” and “low” beam lights for proper operation. (In older equipment, this may be all the lights versus the forward two headlights and red tail light.) This can substantially reduce the potential for blinding on-coming traffic.

Newer technology has continued to become more affordable for agricultural equipment. Many growers have incorporated aftermarket components to help improve efficiency and safety. Combines are one of the hardest implements to operate safely on a public roadway because of their size and limited operator visibility. Tractors with grain carts are also very difficult to see behind. There is an increasing variety of rear-facing cameras with in-cab monitors available to allow operators to see behind and around equipment. Very good quality agricultural grade camera systems are available for $900 to $1,000. They can greatly improve operator visibility compared to conventional mirrors. Many growers have opted to install multiple camera systems to make the combine unloading and bin fill level monitoring easier to do in addition to improving over the road safety.

Wagon safety check: Wheel bearing failure and tire blowouts are common problems that occur with gravity wagons. Completing a quick check of the wheel bearings for “play” and smooth operation and observing the tires for wear and weather checking can save both time and bucket loads of frustration if you end up having to fix one of these problems in the field or along the side of the road. Also, make sure that your gravity wagons have safety chains of adequate strength to keep your load with the tractor in the case of a hitch failure. Welded links often loose strength, so safety chain should be connected to the implement hitch or frame with the correct size connecting link.

Improving the visibility of your harvest equipment when it is travelling on public roadways is a simple and cost-effective way to improve safety. Rear-view cameras and monitors can help you to see following traffic and can make turning into fields much less risky when moving combines and grain carts. A simple pre-harvest check of wheel bearings and tires on gravity wagons can greatly reduce the chance of having to do a risky repair job with a loaded wagon on the side of the road or in the field.

For more information on over-the-road transportation safety, consult the Michigan Farmer’s Transportation Guidebook, a joint publication of the Michigan State Police Traffic Safety Division and Michigan Farm Bureau.

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