Spring can be a tense time for farmers.
This year low-lying fields near rivers were flooded in March and about the time the water receded, early rains inundated fields once again.
The result is a late start to spring planting, but not necessarily an unusually late start. Roger Apple of M & S Implements said farmers may be nervous if they can"t get into fields before May. The later the planting, the greater the likelihood of late summer drought impeding corn growth.
Farmers will likely want to get in the fields at the earliest opportunity and that means a lot of farming equipment will be on highways at the same time, throughout the farming regions of Southern Illinois.
Apple and Saline County Sheriff Keith Brown discussed the issue beneath a looming vertical tillage tool — a machine of basically two walls of sharp, serrated discs. The discs work great for chopping up leftover vegetation from last year and incorporating its nutrients into this year"s soil. They also help warm and dry the soil. But a motorist sure would not want to collide with it, especially at highway speeds.
"You have larger than normal equipment on the road going slower than normal speeds, so its something motorists have to watch for there," Apple said.
The men recounted several accidents over the years. People walked away from some of those accidents, but not from some others. A motorcyclist passing a farm implement when the machine is executing a left turn or wide right turn is a recipe for tragedy.
"These things don"t turn into intersections all the time. They may be turning into fields," Sheriff Keith Brown said.
Tractors, discs and planters have multiple lights and reflectors for safety, but motorists behind them must pay attention to the lights. Driving down the road the machines should have flashers on, but when making a turn the flashers may become single blinkers indicating the driver is about to make a turn. Older tractors may not have such lights, so drivers should be alert for farmers" arm signals.
Motorists can drive much faster than the farm implements and often have ample opportunity to pass. However, oncoming traffic may prevent that, so patience is key. And farmers may be ready to turn out of the way quickly.
"Driving down (U.S. Route) 45 a motorist behind might be going 20 mph rather than 55 mph, but (farmers) are probably only going a couple miles," Apple said.
"When you see the lights blinking slow down and be courteous to everybody," Brown said.
Farming equipment is bigger than it used to be, but with technology and lighting, safety is not lost.
Apple pointed out a planter that is 40 feet wide when used in the field, but on the highway folds to 12 1/2 feet, fitting easily within the lane. But it is a long piece of equipment.
Brown keeps a pamphlet on sharing the road safely in his vehicle to distribute during planting and harvesting season. One side is safety information for motorists and the other is for farmers.
Tips for the farmers
n Do everything possible to alert motorists to the presence of your farm equipment and slow travel speed.
n Plan travel to avoid rush hours, bad weather, the busiest roads, and the time before daylight and after dark.
n Be obvious to motorists by proper use of reflective Slow Moving Vehicle emblems on any implement of husbandry operated on public roadways. It's the law!
n Use reflective marking tape and reflectors at the extremities of equipment.
n Turn on hazard lights mounted on farm equipment and turn off field work lights for all roadway travel.
n Install mirrors that are wide enough to see what is following you.
n Always use turn signals to indicate plans to turn in to fields and driveways.
n Be aware of traffic-oncoming, in front of you, and behind you.
n If road and shoulder conditions are safe, pull over temporarily to allow traffic to pass.
n Slow down on turns and curves. Check the traffic behind you.
n Minimize the width of equipment as much as possible. You may not interfere with traffic on an adjoining lane.
n When practical, truck larger equipment to the next location.
Tips for Motorists
n Above all, slow down and be patient.
n Reduce speed when encountering farm equipment on public roads. Flashing amber lights mean "caution."
n Slow down when you see the Slow Moving Vehicle Emblem-the orange and red reflective triangle warns you that the tractor or combine travels at a slow rate of speed.
n Keep a safe distance from the farm equipment so the farmer can see you. If you can't see this mirrors, he can't see you.
n Pass wide, large farm equipment only if you know conditions are safe and you are sure the farmer will not be taking a left-hand turn. Be cautious when pulling back in.
n It is illegal to pass in a no passing land within 100 feet of an intersection, railroad crossing or bridge.
n Be prepared to yield to wide equipment.
n Always ear a safety belt and follow the road's speed limit.
n Watch for the farmer's indication of a turn. Newer equipment has one or more amber lights flashing rapidly to indicate a turn. Older equipment is typically not equipped with turn signals so watch for the farmer's hand signals.