When it comes to transporting agricultural equipment, bigger almost never means better.
After all, equipment is getting larger but roads are staying the same size.
There are also fewer drivers on the road who know how to respect and respond to these large, slow-moving vehicles. It’s a potentially fatal cocktail and farmers are getting worried.
Dan Trottier, a Red Deer-based farm consultant, said many farmers he talks to are expressing concern about the risks involved in transporting farm equipment.
“Producers these days — especially owners of the larger farm business units — are transporting very large equipment, usually through mass moves,” he said. “They’ll have more than one tractor and more than one combine going down the road.
“Depending on the kind of roads they have in the municipality, once you get that larger equipment on the road there’s not a lot of room for other traffic around them.”
Most rural residents instantly recognize farm equipment and know how to drive defensively when approaching them, said Trottier. But urbanites on rural roads are a different story.
“That driver may not understand that the equipment is slow and it’s big and it’s not something they can come up to at 110 kilometres per hour and avoid without proper planning and delivery.”
Crossing major highways is another serious concern.
“It takes time for this equipment to cross. If, for example, a farm convoy has to cross the Trans-Canada Highway… navigating that equipment across that busy road can be quite challenging.”
Of course, provinces and municipalities are not likely to expand highways and rural roads to accommodate farmers any time soon. Similarly, there’s little producers can do to improve motorists’ practices around farm equipment other than spread awareness.
However, there are some things producers can do to minimize their risks. Most come down to timing, route choices, and making equipment as visible as possible.
Daytime is safer
While it may not always be realistic in the busiest times of the year, farmers should always aim for moving equipment in daylight hours, said Trottier.
“If it’s late in the evening ask yourself if the move has to happen at night versus daylight hours. The more visibility you can provide a vehicle operator, the more aware they can be about what they’re dealing with.”
Trottier used the example of a tractor towing an implement at night.
“If a driver meets a tractor head on after dark they will likely not see the implement being towed due to poor lighting on the implement. Drivers approaching from the rear might see reflective tape and a slow-moving vehicle sign in the headlights depending on factors such as dust and size of implement. In some cases they may not see the flashing lights on the tractor depending on the size of what is being towed.
“At night it’s much more difficult to discern those kind of things so planning travel around daylight hours is always advisable.”
Taking a route with less car traffic is an obvious move, but employees may not know the area well enough to know which road is less busy.
“There are a lot of workers who are not from the farm and don’t know the area as well as the owner does. Sharing that information is always a good training opportunity.”
Another simple way to reduce risk is to clean headlights, signal lights, marker lights, and reflective stickers before pulling out of a dusty field and onto the road.
“Cleaning those before you head on down the road is always a positive thing to do to increase the visibility of your vehicle.”
Pilots, headers, and a wave
Some larger farmers move equipment in groups and use pilot vehicles.
“They’ll have pilot vehicles leading the convoy and following the convoy to help give some distance to the equipment and allow the vehicular traffic to recognize there is a hazard ahead or a hazard behind,” said Trottier.
While it may seem counterintuitive, convoys can help minimize collision potential, he said.
“You could think of a convoy as one instance versus five instances of separate equipment going down the road. It reduces the exposure to accidents that could happen so the more equipment you have moving as a package the better.
“The downside is it might take longer for vehicular traffic to get by that equipment. On a road where the equipment can’t pull over, oncoming vehicles and even vehicles that are coming behind may have to pause for a bit and allow that equipment some time to get out of the way.”
On the other hand, operators should remove header units from their combines because they can leave so little room for other vehicles, said Trottier.
Connecting and reconnecting a header is another time-consuming step in an already hectic harvest season, but make it a part of the overall procedure, he said.
“Train the operators that it’s just part of the process and tell them we want to make sure that we are going down the road safely.”
Something as simple as a wave to indicate that it’s safe for a following motorist to pass can go a long way towards preventing accidents, said Trottier.
“A good operator will engage vehicles around them to try and help them understand what his intentions are.”
More information can be found by doing an internet search for “Safe Transportation of Farm Equipment in Alberta.” The free manual can be downloaded online or ordered by calling 310-FARM (3276).