Soon the crisp air will greet us. A time of year when combines roll, families — related by blood or not — join together to bring in the harvest. I have always had an emotional attachment to harvest season. For me, it is time to celebrate the hard work of farmers. In fact, despite the date on the calendar, the harvesting of grain or animals is a sense of accomplishment, knowing as a team you struggled through the challenges and completed the task on hand to provide so much for mankind.
The third week of September not only marks the official start to fall but also is designated as National Farm Safety and Health Week. While the busy harvest season is a good time to bring recognition of being safe on the farm, it should not be the only time of year the farm family thinks about it or practices it.
Every morning, farmers and ranchers wake up early, grab a cup of coffee and go forth to tackle the work of the day. Each day, when farm families start their day and look themselves in the mirror, they never think today is the day that changes our lives forever.
As time goes on and family members age, we all know the farm team will change. It is the circle of life. We welcome the next generations safely joining the crew as we prepare for the time that grandfathers, grandmothers, great uncles and great aunts no longer climb into the cab of a tractor or open the door to the barn.
However, nothing in this life prepares us for the time you get “the call.” As the words “your loved one has been in a farm accident” reaches your ears, your heart drops, and your adrenaline that actually gets your feet to move forward never prepares you for the days ahead.
On July 20, our family received “the call,” and we found ourselves standing at a scene of an accident filled with flashing lights, sirens, first responders from nine districts, police officers, helicopter, nosey onlookers and T.V. crews. As you process the flood of information from one clergyman on duty, your mind is spiraling, and you begin praying for the small miracle that family member needs to survive, knowing it’s a big ask.
We are not the first to lose a family member unexpectedly, but I would openly admit we thought it would never happen to this family. We are farm strong. We are invincible. We have survived drought, hail, floods, government hoop jumping, breakdowns, minor injuries, low prices, land grabbers attempts and years without profits. But nothing prepared us for losing a member of the middle generation of three generations of family members farming together.
At age 41, he will not turn another ounce of soil, harvest another kernel of corn, grind another gear or teach his boy to drive a tractor. He planted his last field in the spring and never will reap its harvest.
As a family, we will never know why he didn’t see the train from the seat of the Hagie. We can say “be safe” or “slow down,” but even on a calm summer night, those words cannot replace the action. We all get in a hurry. We all get distracted. And we are all guilty of performing unsafe practices.
So, do yourself a favor every day on the farm and not just during National Farm Safety Week, learn to practice the “pause.” Despite your contribution to the world, let us all take time to rethink our steps in life and teach the next generation to work smart and safe, or you will find yourself farming on without your only brother and farming partner. Even worse, harvesting your last field or caring for your last pig before your children or grandchildren are grown.
So, go forth and farm on safely because the world needs farmers and ranchers. May God bless you with many safe and bountiful farming years to come.