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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Remember Safety When Harvesting Downed Corn

September 24, 2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With windblown corn in various conditions, from leaning stalks to plants on the ground, harvesting may be a challenge this fall. But in the haste to salvage crop losses, the one thing farmers should not forget is safety.

"Safety will be an issue this fall," said Randall Reeder, an Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer. "Because of downed corn, harvest will drag on longer than usual, the header will plug more often, and operator stress and frustration will be higher. Under these conditions, it is more important than ever to emphasize safety in and around equipment."

Reeder said that the main issues farmers will be facing in harvesting downed corn include slower operating speeds; more frequent header plugging; more rocks picked up by the header; and more corn stalks going through the combine along with the grain, slowing grain separation and contributing to more grain thrown out the back of the equipment.

"Farmers are also going to get more frustrated seeing whole ears laying in the field," said Reeder, who also holds an appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "Add to that a delayed spring planting which will translate into delays in fall harvest, and farmers will be pushed to harvest as quickly as possible before the days turn shorter and the weather worsens."

Reeder offers some tips for farmers to ensure they harvest downed corn safely:

• Make sure the combine is in peak operating order. "Downed corn will cause enough problems without the annoyance of routine breakdowns," said Reeder.

• Look for harvesting aids or equipment that specifically deals with downed corn.

• If a farmer has precision farming equipment, use it. "Auto steering and/or a row sensor can at least relieve the operator of trying to see and follow the row," said Reeder.

• Make adjustments to the header to accommodate broken stalks or downed plants.

• Take a break when needed, despite the rush to finish and the long hours in the combine. "Drink plenty of liquids and eat healthy," said Reeder.

• Tape safety reminders at various places, such as the combine cab or dryer area.

• Count to 10 before exiting the cab to deal with a problem.

• "When you have to get out of the combine cab to solve a problem, make sure you turn the combine off first," said Reeder. "If a second person is helping to unclog the header, still turn the equipment off. The No. 1 rule for preventing injuries is always turn equipment off first, emphasizes Reeder.

"Operating in a safe, deliberate manner may extend harvest by a week or two. That may seem excessive, but compare it to the delay that could result from a major injury," said Reeder.

According to Ohio State University's Agricultural Safety and Health Program, the number of farm fatalities spikes in the spring and in the fall, coinciding with planting and harvest. Between 1997 and 2006, there were 60 fatalities in Ohio related to farm machinery and equipment.

For more information on harvesting downed corn, including links to other web sites, log on to Ohio State University Extension's Agronomic Crops Team Web site at

Candace Pollock
Randall Reeder