Sow and Grow with Sara: Safety tips and upgrades for the fall

Sara Bauder
SDSU Extension Agronomy Field Specialist

Soybean and corn harvest is underway or wrapped up in many parts of South Dakota. Although it’s a great feeling to get that crop in the bin, it’s easy to become complacent when it comes to safety measures.

With farm equipment on the road this time of year, we often hear of avoidable accidents. One common misjudgment drivers have is the speed at which a tractor or combine is moving down a roadway. To put it in perspective: if a vehicle travels at 65 mph and a combine is a half mile ahead of it traveling at 15 mph in the same direction, it would take 36 seconds for the vehicle to meet the combine. Cut that distance to one-fourth of a mile, and it’s only 18 seconds. Considering all the potential distractions drivers face today, one can see how easily an accident could occur. In order to keep yourself and others safe, please take time to consider the following:


  • Avoid traveling after sunset and times when more traffic is expected.
  • Ensure all safety lights are on and that all placards are visible.
  • Do not move equipment unless everyone working with you is visible and ensure other vehicles are out of the way.
  • Avoid parking on roadways. If it’s unavoidable, ensure there is proper signage down the road.
  • If it’s muddy, clean all tires and equipment well enough to avoid leaving mud on the roadway.
  • Transport combine heads separately from the combine when moving on a roadway.
  • Avoid driving distractions, such as cell phones.
Auto drivers
  • Be patient. Harvest occurs during a short period of the year, and large equipment operators will often pull over and allow you to pass when they are able.
  • Leave as much room as possible when meeting large equipment on the road. If the shoulders are well-paved and wide, do not be afraid to slow down and use them.
  • When passing machinery, be sure to double check for oncoming traffic, slow down and look for turn signals if the equipment has them. Remember that the equipment operator may be turning left or swinging wide to turn right and unable to see behind them, making passing very dangerous.
  • Do not assume the equipment operator can see you — a lot of farm equipment is rear-view blind.
  • As should be done with any other vehicle, avoid tailgating; it is impossible to know when a sudden stop may be necessary.
Grain bin safety

Storing grain or feed of any kind comes with some serious safety risks. But when harvest rolls around, safety is often overlooked as many producers rush to make progress. If your bins are older or you simply want to be sure everyone is as safe as possible, consider the following safety upgrades:

  • Exterior ladders. Most bins have an exterior ladder of some sort. Ideally, these ladders should be replaced with staircases that add extra stability and safety; however, this is a major upgrade that not everyone is willing to take. Although the flat, attached ladder style serves its purpose, the safety of the ladder can be improved by adding a cage. In addition, it is ideal to raise the bottom of the ladder so that children cannot reach the bottom rung. Hand rails at the end of the ladder (for easy transition to the roof) and guardrails along the roof ladder are also great additions.
  • Interior grain bin ladders. Rather than relying on rope, chain or pipe ladders, farmers should use an attached interior ladder. Painting the ladder or wall behind it a bright color can also help detect the ladder’s location in dusty conditions.
  • Safety harnesses and lifelines. Although you may have entered the bin hundreds of times without one, a harness with a lifeline system adds a great deal of safety to your operation. A body harness is best, as it spreads the force of a fall or a tug of the rope across a larger area of the body. Waist belts can cause serious injury when used to stop a fall.
  • Always work in pairs around bins. The person inside and outside the bin should be able to contact one another.

This information was adapted from ‘Roadway Safety During Harvest’ and ‘Grain Bin Safety Improvements’, both written by SDSU Extension Youth Safety Field Specialist John Keimig. For more information on these topics visit and check out the October 5th Pest and Crop Newsletter.

Sara Bauder
A John Deere combine unloads its grain into a nearby semi-truck during harvest season.