MITCHELL, Neb. – To the sounds of gasps of surprise at the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds on Sept. 26, a mannequin made of a pair of disposable coveralls filled with red balloons and tissue paper demonstrated why farm equipment can be dangerous.
A length of twine is tied to one of his hands and the other end is looped around the power takeoff drive connecting a slowly idling tractor to a hay bailer. At a nod from Gaelen Lane, a salesperson from HorizonWest Inc. implement dealership in Scottbluff, Neb., the PTO is engaged and the inevitable happens: Red balloons and tissue paper fly into the air as the paper coveralls wrap around the drive.
That’s why you never stick your hands into the PTO, Lane explains to the thirdfourth- and fifth-grade audience. And that’s the demonstrative power of the ninth annual Progressive Agriculture Farm Safety Day.
“Clear back in the 1980s or 1990s, I think, with the number of fatalities and injuries to children, Progressive Agriculture magazine decided they wanted to do something to keep kids safe,” said John Dillman, regional sales manager for BetaSeed in Scottsbluff and coordinator of the safety day events.
“They developed the Farm Safety Day events,” he said. “Now, there are safety days in nearly every state in the United States. They’re also in Canada and there are even a few in
The events quickly grew in popularity and organizers eventually broke away from the magazine to form their own organization focused on just teaching safe practices to children. Each year, the organization provides listings of 20 to 30 suggested presentation topics to local groups around the country. The local event is co-sponsored by the Agri-Business Committee of the Scottsbluff-Gering United Chamber of Commerce.
And it works, both here and around the country. Dillman said he didn’t have exact statistics at his fingertips but knows there’s been a marked decrease in farm-related injuries and deaths since the Farm Safety Days came into being.
“I think it’s just as important for farm kids and for the kids who live in town,” he said. “As these kids are growing up (on the farm), it takes time for them to realize all the things they need to do to maintain safety.
“And, it’s extremely important for kids who grow up in town to have this safety training – they’re never really exposed to it until they do visit a farm,” Dillman said. “Hopefully we can create the same mentality with city kids so they’re constantly thinking about what they’re doing – asking themselves, ‘Should I be doing this or should I not be doing it?’”
The events are focused on middle-elementary-age children. They’re mature enough to grasp what they’re being shown but haven’t had time to develop unsafe habits some older, high school age students may have, said Kelli Clarke, a fourth-grade teacher at Mitchell Elementary.
“It’s programed toward that age range,” Clarke said. “I think it’s a good time – they’re old enough to understand and put some of those things into practice, to bring them back home to their families to share with them."
This year, students in third- through fifth-grade from Community Christian School and St. Agnes Catholic School in Scottsbluff and fourth-graders from Mitchell Elementary School rotated between 12 demonstrations, including the dangers of the PTO and general equipment safety. Other stations talked about chemical and grain bin safety, drug abuse prevention, things to look for to avoid or prevent home fires, ATV safety and more. And the kids found the event both fun and instructive.
“Some of these things, I didn’t even know,” said Morgan Celli, 10, a fourth grader at St. Agnes. “Now, I’m going to go home and look at them and see if they’re right.”
Morgan said what she learned at Safety Day isn’t necessarily stuff her family talks about on a regular basis. But she was planning to change that as soon as she got home.
“(Her parents) work a lot and sometimes we don’t have time to check our house for safety,” Morgan said. “Now, I’m going to check and see if anything’s wrong, then I’ll tell my dad.”
While Morgan’s family does live outside the city limits, they don’t farm. But farm kid Cash Robbins, 10, a fourth grader in Mitchell, agrees with her the safety day events are important. Most of this is stuff Cash’s family has talked about before, he said.
“I think this is fun and it’s good for the kids so they can learn to be safe,” Cash said. Non-farm kids “live in town and they don’t know much stuff about farming, so they can learn it here.”