University Park, Pa. -- A program launched recently by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences aims to put rollover protective structures, or ROPS, on hundreds of tractors and save the lives of Keystone State farmers.
Kicked off Jan. 4 at the Keystone Farm Show at the York Fairgrounds, the ROPS Retrofit Program for Pennsylvania Farmers addresses a continuing crisis -- dozens of farmers die in tractor accidents every decade.
"Between 2000 and 2008, Pennsylvania recorded 58 farm-related, tractor-rollover deaths," said Aaron Yoder, instructor in agricultural and biological engineering and extension safety specialist. "Agriculture continues to be recognized as the most dangerous industry in the United States. One major reason for this is tractor rollovers. In Pennsylvania, tractor incidents account for about half of all farm-related fatalities each year, and half of these are related to rollovers."
A ROPS is designed to limit a roll by 90 degrees, so that if a tractor rolls, it would fall onto its side or end, according to Yoder. "The protective equipment is beneficial for all farmers, not just farmers who live in areas with a lot of hills," he said.
"Even if you're pulling something out of the ground with it hitched improperly, the tractor could roll over backward."
For the first time, farmers across the state have access to a program that makes life-saving tractor equipment affordable and simple to order, Yoder explained. The rollover-prevention equipment generally costs between $800 and $1,000, sometimes matching the value of a farmer's tractor. "It's not cheap, and that's one reason why more farmers don't always use the safety equipment," he said.
"Many farmers don't want to go through the hassle of ordering and installing the equipment," he added. "Farmers should consider the ROPS as inexpensive insurance, like health and life insurance. ROPS and seat belt use are 99 percent effective in preventing serious injuries or death."
Through the ROPS Retrofit Program, farmers are reimbursed 70 percent of the cost of their ROPS kit -- a roll bar and seat belt -- up to a savings of $765. For more information on the rebate program, visit the program's website or call the ROPS hotline toll-free at 877-767-7748.
The rebate program in Pennsylvania is modeled after a similar program in New York, which was implemented over four years and has equipped more than 800 farm tractors with ROPS.
Thus far, the Pennsylvania program has received nearly $28,000 in donations, which should provide enough equipment for 36 tractors, Yoder said. "This year, about 26 tractors should be equipped with ROPS," he said.
Financial supporters for the ROPS Retrofit Program for Pennsylvania Farmers include Farm Family Casualty Insurance Company, Land O' Lakes, AgChoice Farm Credit, Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit, Montgomery County Farm Bureau and Marlboro Mushrooms.
It's hard to overstate the need for tractor-rollover protection in the commonwealth, Yoder said, citing the following statistics:
- One in 10 farmers will overturn a tractor in his or her lifetime.
- Eighty percent of tractor rollovers happen to highly experienced tractor operators.
- Pennsylvania is one of the states with the highest rate of rollover fatalities.
- In the past nine years, 58 Pennsylvania farmers have lost their lives in rollovers.
- Seven of 10 farms are out of business within one year of a rollover fatality to the main operator.
- One in seven farmers involved in a tractor rollover is permanently disabled.