State officials target tractor rollovers
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota officials are targeting tractor rollovers as a way to improve safety on the farm.
Key legislators and representatives of three state agencies met for the first time last week to gather information on how other states — including Wisconsin — have reduced farm deaths. One method is to help farmers add rollover protection to aging tractors that remain popular even though they tend to flip and lack modern safety features.
Republican state Rep. Paul Anderson, chairman of the House committee that oversees agricultural policy, said a recent Star Tribune series on farm safety made it clear that Minnesota needs to take action to reduce tractor rollovers and other agricultural accidents.
"If Wisconsin can do it, so can we," said Anderson, who operates a 700-acre farm near Starbuck.
Federal data obtained by the Star Tribune shows that the number of Minnesota farmers killed in work-related accidents soared more than 30 percent in the past decade. From 2003 to 2013, a total of 210 Minnesota residents died in farm accidents, which now account for one-quarter of all workplace deaths in the state.
Wisconsin has taken a more aggressive approach to farm safety and has seen the number of fatal accidents drop 16 percent in the past decade.
"Your numbers show we are not doing it correctly, so we better look at this seriously," said state Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, who chairs the Senate committee on jobs, agriculture and rural development. "We need to do something to get this trend reversed."
Sparks and Anderson said they plan to hold public hearings on farm safety in the coming months. Anderson said the issue will be one of his top legislative priorities for 2016.
Sparks said he is concerned that Minnesota has been without a farm safety coordinator since 2008.
Although state law says the job should be kept filled "at all times," replacing the previous coordinator has not been a priority, in part because funds are so tight, according to officials at the University of Minnesota Extension Service, which is in charge of filling the position. The university also eliminated farm safety training programs after state and local officials chopped millions of dollars in extension funding.