Wednesday December 1, 2010

WALPOLE, N.H. -- Farm safety advocates in New Hampshire welcomed a new rebate program designed to provide affordable access to tractor safety equipment during three simultaneous events on Tuesday throughout the state.

New Hampshire formally became the third state to launch the Rollover Protection System (ROPS) Rebate Program to offer farmers greater accessibility to life-saving tractor equipment after agricultural officials found a longtime need for better safety apparatus because of cost and ordering barriers.

Farmers are eight times more likely to die on the job than other American workers, and the leading cause of those deaths is tractor overturns, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

With its rolling hills and steep terrain, the Northeast has the highest rate of overturns in the country -- the most recent tractor-related fatality was Bruce Bakaian of Wilton, N.H. on July 31.

"A total of 1,538 agricultural workers were killed from tractor rollover accidents from 1992 to 2007 -- this was according to the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. And two individuals were killed in tractor rollover incidents in New Hampshire just this past growing season," said Agricultural Development Director Gail McWilliam Jellie during one of the state’s launch events at the R.N. Johnson, Inc. (John Deere) in Walpole. Similar celebrations took place at other John Deere dealerships in Kensington and North Haverhill.


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"Because farmers and farm workers die in isolated incidents, their deaths are grieved by their families and communities, but not so much noticed in the larger world," she said.

Terry Robison, president and sales manager of R.N. Johnson, stood in front of an upside down Deere tractor during the event to illustrate the critical space a roll bar (generally upright protection beams located above the operator’s seat) provides for the farmer in the event of an overturn.

Statistics from John Deere show 99 percent of deaths are averted with a roll bar and a seatbelt. But even 70 percent are prevented with just a roll bar regardless if the operator wears a seatbelt.

"Obviously we want everybody to wear a seatbelt, but don’t not buy the ROPS because you aren’t going to wear the seatbelt," Robison said. "The other thing the roll bar will do, it hopefully will just flop on its side and keep it from continuing to roll. So if you are not on a very steep hill, it will actually stop sideways and keep you from being ejected from the tractor."

Although John Deere is a major program sponsor in New Hampshire, all competing models are also eligible for the retrofitting as well. Only one tractor per farm can access the rebate during a program year.

Half the region’s tractors predate the manufacturers’ voluntary safety standards established in 1985, including many devices used on New Hampshire farms.

Jeffrey Holmes, a Langdon dairy farmer and current president of the New Hampshire Farm Bureau, grew up driving a vintage two-cylinder tractor on some of the Granite State’s bumpy side hills.

But as tractors age over time on cash-strapped farms, he said the cost of retrofitting becomes too expensive.

"It would have been nice to have a program then like we have now," he said. "This really is too dangerous to be out there on uneven ground."

Marlow farmer Sandy Salo agreed, saying she glances out at her rolling fields after spending time on a tractor without safety equipment and wonders how she is lucky enough to come home every time. "I hope we take advantage of this program. Anything that helps people do what they need to do for their tractors, this is a great thing."

The ROPS program will reimburse farmers 70 percent of the cost of their tractor rollover protection kit -- oftentimes including a roll bar and seatbelt -- for a savings of up to $765. Program organizers also provide assistance to farmers with identifying and pricing the appropriate kit for their equipment.

"Farm businesses operate on slender margins even in the best of times, and the ROPS rebate program is the way we can help farmers with the high costs of retrofitting their tractors with this important safety device," McWilliam Jellie said.

Agricultural supporters in New York established the program four years ago. Vermont enrolled in ROPS earlier this autumn. Pennsylvania is expected to join the retrofitting program in January 2011.

"It was initiated because we saw a need, we knew farmers were being killed or permanently disabled in tractor overturns, so we went out and talked to farmers and said ‘what would it take to get you to put these devices on your tractors?’ And the two major barriers were cost and where to you get one," said Barbara Bayes with the Northeast Center for Agricultural Health.

"We have, in four years, helped over 800 farmers retrofit their tractors, which we are very proud of. We’ve had over 2,000 inquires about the program, we have another 40 or 50 guys in the process of installing their roll bars," she added.

Bayes, the ROPS project coordinator, said they were able to receive funding from the state agricultural committee in Albany to provide early assistance to farmers with the equipment costs. Rebate programmers also established a toll-free hotline (1-877-767-7748) to have tractor owners sign up for the program.

On the Web:

-- www.ropsr4u.com

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.