To reduce the risk of roadway incidents, hay farmer Robert Janney sometimes chooses odd hours to move heavy equipment on rural roads, like an early Sunday morning.
“It’s no fun being out on a tractor while people flip you a bird because they think you’re in the way,” he said. “We’re all trying to make a living, and everybody’s in a hurry, but we need to share the road.” To literally make hay while the sun shines, time is of the essence, Janney continued.
“The farmer is trying to get from field to field or get their crop in the barn before it rains,” he explained. Meanwhile, motorists are hurrying to a ballgame or meeting loved ones for a meal. “A meal the farmer has most likely helped produce food for!” he added. “Just like their time matters to them, our crops are time sensitive to us.”
Peak growing conditions for hay mean motorists will see increased activity on Virginia’s rural roadways.
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“To get forage quality in dry hay, you need to get it dried down completely, and quickly,” said Matt Booher, a Virginia Cooperative Extension crop and soil sciences agent in Rockingham County. “That’s the challenge. We tend to get scattered rain this time of year. And as forages mature and put out seed heads, the quality starts to drop pretty quickly. So that also puts you in a rush to get out and mow the fields before they get too mature. It’s a short window of time.”
He added that many farmers are simultaneously planting row crops and spraying fields.
With the planting season in full swing, motorists are urged to respectfully share the road, said Dana Fisher, chairman of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Farm Safety Advisory Committee.
“Our food systems depend on transportation,” Fisher said. “As farmers are doing their part, motorists should take necessary precautions to ensure everybody reaches their destination safely.”
Janney, who has grown orchard grass fescue for feeder cattle for over 30 years, said heavy equipment didn’t utilize public roadways as frequently when farmland was more contiguous. However, as development and land loss encroach on agricultural activities, motorists should expect to share the road with equipment.
He recalled a fatality in 2018, when a motorcyclist in a no-passing zone struck a farm tractor turning left into a private drive.
Visibility is key. “Slow down. Give space,” Janney advised.
“If I have a big baler behind me, I can’t see you,” he said. “If I’m getting ready to make a left turn and you’re impatient and whip out to pass me, we’re going to meet in the road, and it’s going to be a problem.”
—Submitted by the Virginia Farm Bureau