Farm Safety & Health: Forage Harvesting Safety

  • Petrea, Robert (Chip)

A common task on many farms is preparing for harvesting forages. "Harvesting forages" can include many different things, such as preparing small square bales, large square bales, large round bales, or silage. The methods of harvesting vary along with the types of material being harvested. For instance, forages are often grown in areas that are too rough or steep for row crops. Also, it is very likely that some time has elapsed since the equipment used for harvesting forages was last used. Factors such as these have implications for safe equipment operation.

As with many farm hazards, those present in forage harvesting situations are usually recognized. However, the risk perceived by the operator is reduced to much below the actual risk simply because of the familiarity of the operation. Invariably, the speed with which the equipment operates and with which incidents can occur are underestimated. The result is that operators overestimate their ability to react. A pto shaft rotating at 540 rpm will pull something into it at the rate of 7 feet per second. A baler traveling at 3 miles per hour will pull crops into it at the rate of over 4 feet per second. Likewise, belts and pulleys needed for operating many pieces of forage harvesting equipment will pull something into them at up to 66 feet per second. These speeds are beyond the human ability to react, not even considering the power that runs the machine and from energy in the machine itself. Here are some safety tips to minimize risk while operating different types of equipment.

Before Harvest
  • Examine fields for changes since last fall: debris, limbs or foreign objects, and driving hazards, such as holes and ditch formation or undercutting.
  • Think through the operation to be used. Did you harvest this field for haylage last year, and are you going to bale it this year? Will that change make a difference in how you set up windrows?
  • Review operations manuals and follow maintenance guidelines. Cleaning, proper lubrication, replacement of worn parts (belts, chains, springs, hydraulic hoses, etc.), and replacing shields may save valuable time during the short harvest period.
Roadway Transportation
  1. Remember that the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code requires a Slowing Moving Vehicle (SMV) emblem on agricultural equipment. If the SMV emblem on the tractor is obstructed by equipment, hay on wagons, or haylage wagons, an SMVemblem must be on the rearmost piece.
  2. If traveling between 30 minutes before sundown or 30 minutes after sunrise, the wagons being towed may  require lighting: two red lights if it obstructs the lighting on the tractor and a flashing amber on the rearmost piece
  3. It is recommended that the extremities-the widest part of balers, mowers and forage choppers-have  reflectors or reflective tape on them. This will assist the driving public in recognizing the width of the towed equipment.
  4. Always return the equipment to the roadway position before traveling on public roads. This position makes the equipment as narrow as possible, an advantage when pulling to the side to allow traffic to pass.
  1. The density of the crop and the terrain will both affect the speed used. Heavy crops, rough terrain, and too high a speed can cause clogging or plugging. The more this occurs, the more the operator is tempted to leave the machine and tractor running. Always disengage the pto and shut off the tractor.
  2. Keep sickle bars and rotary knives sharp.
Square Balers
  1. Always disengage the pto and shut off the tractor before working on equipment.
  2. The flywheel supplies a uniform momentum for operating parts and will continue to turn even after the pto is disengaged. Always allow time for it to stop turning before working on the baler.
  3. Knotter operation can usually be viewed by a hand turning the flywheel. Be watchful for co-workers when two or more are working on/adjusting equipment.
  4. Extra caution is needed when bale throwers are used because of potential energy in the unit.
  5. The newer large square balers pose an even greater risk because of the larger tractors needed for operation and the weight of the bales produced.
  6. As always, caution is needed when loading bales by hand onto wagons. The experience of the stacker and the person driving the tractor or truck pulling the wagon are important elements for safely loading and hauling wagons from the field.
Round Bales
  1. Always disengage the pto and shut off the tractor before working on equipment.
  2. Stay clear of pickup fingers, rollers, belts, and raised rear gates.
  3. Use good judgment in placing round bales on slopes after baling. Even though most will stay where you put them, gravity never takes a break.
  4. Equipment used to handle round bales should be large enough to handle the bale and equipped with rollover protection. Loader buckets were not meant to carry round bales without a spear or grapple designed for the load.
  5. When working on slopes, always approach the bale from the downhill side.
  6. Bale transport wagons or trailers should have appropriate carrying capacity, proper width, and end racks.
  7. Use good judgment when stacking round bales. High bales are sometimes easier to get up than they are to get down without problems.
Forage Harvesters
  1. Always disengage the pto and shut off the tractor/harvester before working on equipment.
  2. Stay clear of the discharge spout. Allow the machine to stop before hooking up wagons.
  3. Keep knives sharp and properly balanced.
  4. Allow all components to come to a complete stop before inspecting/adjusting/repairing.
  5. Doors and shields should be tightly latched to deflect objects thrown by the cutter.

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