Danger on the farmstead
It's no coincidence that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rank agriculture as one of the most dangerous industries for workers.
Rodney Rebel, a fourth-generation farmer in Richardton, can attest to that following a March accident that left him with a broken left arm and pelvis.
"I was driving down the highway near Richardton, pulling my tractor on the way to feed the cows, when I was rear-ended by a semi," Rebel said. "It's terrible. I've been in the house since March and lost cows in the last winter storm. It turns life around."
Spring may be the most hazardous of all seasons for farmers, according to the North Dakota Farmers Union, which indicates that tractor-related accidents are the leading cause of farm fatalities.
Tractor overturns accounted for more than 20 percent of farm deaths in 2010 and most farm accidents occurring in the spring as farmers make tractor repairs, according to the NDFU.
Rebel, who spent a week in the hospital, is expected to make a full recovery -- though it will take time.
"When the Highway Patrol came to the accident, they said there's no reason I should be alive after what happened, and it's the first farm-related accident I've ever had," Rebel said.
Stephen J. Reynolds, director of the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety in Colorado, said injuries are much more common on farms and ranches than in other industries.
About 1 in 50 agricultural workers, on a national level, are injured severely enough to require time away from work, Reynolds said, adding the numbers do not include children or adults on the substantial number of smaller farms with less than 11 employees.
"The rates are a bit higher in our region, including the Dakotas, and are higher in livestock producers compared to grain producers."
Reynolds said the majority of non-fatal injuries are from machinery and livestock. Slips and falls result in injuries such as strains, tears or cuts to muscle, ligaments, and broken bones, most often affecting the back and upper extremities.
Even as machinery becomes more high-tech, Allison De Vries, coordinator of the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agriculture, said older technology remains in use, particularly on family farms.
"Approximately half of the 4.8 million tractors in the United States do not have roll-over protective structures installed on tractors manufactured before 1985, when manufacturers voluntarily started installing ROPS on new tractors as standard equipment," she said. "Adoption of new technologies, such as biotechnology, may benefit productivity, but new technologies can result in unanticipated occupational safety and health risks and benefits.
"For example, the introduction of a pest-resistant bioengineered crop enables farmers to reduce the use of pesticides, saving pesticide application costs and reducing exposures to pesticides."
Luckily, farm-related injuries do not have to keep families in the northern Great Plains from their livelihoods thanks to help from Farm Rescue, a Jamestown-based organization that launched in 2005 and now works across North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, eastern Montana and Iowa.
Since Farm Rescue began, more than 200 families have completed planting and harvesting in the wake of disasters or injuries, including Rebel and two other southwest North Dakota families this spring.
Of all of the families that are helped, Danielle Abbas, the communications coordinator for Farm Rescue, said 40 percent have been impacted by farm-related injuries.
Those injuries could be devastating for the families without Farm Rescue, said Rita Jarrett, the organization's office and outreach coordinator.
"We help keep these families going because if they have to miss a year of farming, that would mean they have to go a year without an income," Jarrett said.
Nominations or applications for assistance may be filled out and submitted to Farm Rescue by the families themselves or others.
To qualify for assistance, a farmer must be suffering or have suffered a major injury, illness or natural disaster that prevents farm work from happening.
That could include being physically incapable of operating machinery or not having machinery left to farm in the case of a natural disaster.
Nominations can include the nominator's name or be sent in anonymously.
After the nominations come rolling in, it does not take long to find volunteers with an agricultural background to come to the aid of their fellow farmers in need.
"Farm Rescue's volunteers have a farming background so they know what to expect, and they're just happy to give back," Abbas said. "Farm Rescue provides a tangible benefit in that the farm families helped can get their crop planted or harvested and continue their livelihood. It is also beneficial for the community around the farmer as he is going to put his money back into that community."