When am I farming, and when am I excavating?

There are many underground pipelines delivering natural gas and hazardous liquids on many farms in Michigan. Any farm activity involving soil depth greater than 12 inches should be preceded by an “811 call.”

The Pipeline Ag Safety Alliance presented a great luncheon program at the 2016 annual meeting of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents in Little Rock, Arkansas, on July 27, 2016. Michigan State University Extension was there and found some important “take-home” lessons.

Alliance program director Chris Thome passed along the following key points:

  • Farm and ranch activities increasingly pose safety risk to pipelines. Farm equipment is getting more powerful and can dig deeper. At the same time, erosion and terrain modifications can reduce the soil covering an underground pipeline.
  • Every state has passed “One Call” laws to keep pipelines safe. These laws require contractors, farmers, homeowners and anyone digging to call 811 at least two to three days before starting their project. 811 is a free, national, three-digit number you can call from anywhere to have lines located.
  • Most states provide a narrow exemption to their One Call law for “normal” farming activities. A key to this entire process is understanding “when am I farming and when am I excavating.

Repairing fences, removing stumps and cleaning out ditches may seem like every day work on the farm, but according to state laws, these activities require a call to 811. These activities on this list are often thought of as farming activities, but are classified as excavating:

  • Fence building
  • Drain tiling
  • Terracing
  • Grading
  • Contouring
  • Ripping
  • Deep tilling
  • Soil sampling
  • Tree or stump removal
  • Clearing or grubbing
  • Ditch cleaning
  • Trenching
  • Auguring

Hitting a pipeline with deep tillage equipment, tiling machinery, post hole auger or other tool can result in a catastrophic accident. The free 811 call takes a little forward planning, but is essential to farmer safety.

Here’s what you can expect after you make the 811 call and technicians from the utility company arrive:

Representatives use yellow paint and flags to show the exact location of gas or hazardous liquids pipelines. Once lines are marked, use care when working near the line. Do not use mechanical equipment within approximately 24 inches on each side of the pipeline. If your digging project is on or near the pipeline company right-of-way or easement, a company representative will likely be onsite during your project. Do not remove flags, stakes or paint marks until you have finished digging. If you expose a pipeline, a company representative will request to inspect the pipe before you backfill.

If there is a pipeline in your neighborhood, be smart, be safe, know when farming activities fall into the excavating category, and call 811 as a precaution.

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