With harvest underway in southwestern Manitoba, Keystone Agricultural Producers is encouraging all farmers to make safety a top priority.
“We need to be able to take time to ensure that safety is paramount and uppermost in farmers’ minds,” KAP president Bill Campbell said Thursday, adding that the higher stress and list of priorities during this time of year can sometimes lead to accidents and injury.
These accidents, Campbell said, can cause delays and workforce problems that can be avoided by slowing down.
“Sometimes it’s better to take a moment and think about safety and how to accomplish a task rather than just forcing the task and carrying on.”
Some steps Manitobans can take — both on and off the farm — to stay safe during the harvest season are outlined on Prairie Mountain Health’s website. They include driving respectfully and sharing the road with slow-moving farm equipment; ensuring all lights on equipment are working properly; being aware of height, length and weight restrictions on farm vehicles and when permits may be required; not operating machinery when sleepy; and regularly inspecting and maintaining equipment.
When it comes to keeping young people safe, PMH said it’s important to create a separate and supervised play area for children on the farm and identifying which farm tasks may be appropriate for youngsters based on their age and skill levels. Such guidelines are available at cultivatesafety.org.
It’s important to be aware of farm machinery and equipment that have a power take-off (PTO) device, which transfers an engine’s mechanical power to another piece of equipment, such as running a jackhammer using a tractor engine, Campbell added.
“Make sure that you are safe and guards are in place,” Campbell said.
Harvest across the province is around 15 per cent complete, well behind the five-year average of 51 per cent that is usually finished by this time of year, according to the latest crop report from the Manitoba government released on Tuesday. The delay is due to late seeding, high humidity and frequent rains.
Running behind the harvesting schedule can cause a rise in stress for farmers, which Campbell said can contribute to accidents on and around the farm. He said it’s important for farmers who are facing mental health challenges, such as high stress and anxiety, to seek support.
“Reach out to each other … speak to your spouse, speak to your workforce. I think communication is a huge part of being able to handle mental stress.”
In a previous interview with the Sun, Gerry Friesen, the chief administrative officer of the Manitoba Farmer Wellness program — which connects farmers and their family to mental health professionals — said it’s critical for farmers to connect with resources when they’re experiencing hard times, despite any hesitation that may exist.
“There’s been so much awareness built about ongoing issues on the farm and what overwhelming stress can do, and so the stigma is starting to back off,” Friesen said. “People are more and more open to actually getting help for a lot of the struggles they have.”
The crop report cited “ideal harvesting conditions” around Manitoba over the past week. The bulk of crops have been desiccated, meaning they’ve had a special chemical agent applied to kill leaves and/or plants so the crop can dry out from environmental conditions more quickly and evenly.
Spring wheat harvest is expected to pick up as soon as crops dry and weather forecasts remain warm and sunny. In Westman, crops such as soybean, corn and sunflower are showing signs of moisture stress, while a few areas also have high grasshopper pressure.
“We’ve seen a big shift in the weather patterns and we’ve had some nice, dry weather and temperatures, so we’ve seen some pretty rapid progress on the fields that are ready,” Campbell said. “There’s lots of activity happening and there [has been] pretty good progress.”
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun