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Please Share the Road Safely with Farmers

by Rob Sharkey |
Farm tractor on road

A friend of mine who happens to farm near a busy city — Danielle Wainwright of New Jersey — had a lightbulb moment last year during planting season. She grabbed a sharpie and a piece of cardboard and created a handwritten sign that truly changed the way people viewed her.

She hung this clever sign with bailing twine on the back of her tractor, where all the vehicles that rushed up behind her could read it. It read, with simplicity and gravity: “I’m a mom.”

Why would she feel the need to do that, you ask?

Farm tractor on roadIf you have never driven a tractor or large piece of equipment like a sprayer, you don’t know what you don’t know. Let’s face it, driving a big piece of equipment, well…well, that’s an opportunity that most city-dwelling people don’t get.

On my TV show, SharkFarmer TV on RFD-TV, I have a segment called “Man on the Street.” I actually walk down the streets of a downtown Nashville, for example, and with my wife and camera guy in tow, ask people questions about agriculture, such as: Where does your food come from? What do you look for in the grocery store? Do you know what farmers spray on their fields and why?

Most importantly, I show people pictures of equipment that I use on a daily basis on my farm and ask them to guess what they are. Now, here’s the key: I first ask them what they do for a living and say, “Well, I don’t know much about what you do for a living and the tools of your trade, but do you mind if I show you some of mine?”

Let me be honest. The guesses can get pretty crazy. But I never make fun of them … because they don’t know what they don’t know.

Most of the time, their guess is based on what they see a farmer working with as they drive by a field. The enormous size and power of that tractor is often underestimated.

As farmers and ranchers, why not be proactive with the people we share the road with and take some time to explain what we do and why?

Back to the beginning: My friend Danielle wanted to let people know that she is a wife and mom and farmer, and that she just wanted to make it home safely to her family. Every farmer you see on the road in a tractor is someone special. They have someone waiting for them at home.

Farmers need to take equipment on the road. Our farms are spread out and it isn’t possible to avoid the interaction of our slow-moving equipment with regular traffic. Most of the time, this equipment is wider than our side of the road. We get over as much as we can but things like mailboxes and signs force us into the opposite lane.

There also are concerns with getting too far over in the ditch. Every year, there are multiple incidences in which a tractor or sprayer has overturned because of a steep ditch.

Also, the farm implements that we are towing behind the tractors often restrict our field of vision. Even with cameras, it can be very difficult to see what’s directly behind us.

Farmers are required to put a Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) emblem on back of our equipment if we are using a public road. These are the florescent orange triangles that have been used for decades. If you see “SMV” on back of any farm equipment, you can assume that they are traveling between 10 and 20 miles per hour.

Farmers get it. It’s frustrating to be caught behind us. And yes, some farmers don’t practice common courtesy, which makes the rest of us look bad. However, I can confidently say that the vast majority of farmers do everything they can to avoid interrupting your commute.

Again, every farmer you see on the road in a tractor is someone special. They have someone waiting at home.

Rob Sharkey

Rob Sharkey

aka “The Shark Farmer,” tills the land at his fifth-generation farm in the Bradford area, where he lives with wife Emily. He hosts “A Shot of Ag” on WTVP PBS, among other media endeavors
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