Legislation Would Help Farmers Make Tractors Safer

Minnesota farmers driving 86,000 tractors do not have adequate safety equipment, some state lawmakers say, so legislation is being considered to provide them financial help to update their machines.

“These would be the smaller, older tractors,” Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said.

A state House agriculture committee Wednesday approved an Anderson bill to launch a $250,000 program to offer a combination of public and private aid to farmers to install roll bars and seat belts on tractors.

Julie Sorenson of New York state told the Minnesota committee that 1,411 farmers died in American tractor rollovers from 1992 to 2005. She said that when seat belts are used with roll bars, the safety devices are 99 percent effective in protecting drivers.

Sorenson was a leader as New York established its program to help farmers install roll bars. New York offers a $500 rebate, which allowed 1,800 tractors to be retrofitted.

“New York state kind of lead the way on rollover protection for old tractors,” Anderson said.

Rollover bar programs have expanded from New England to Tennessee, and on to Illinois and Wisconsin. While many states fund or partially fund the program, Wisconsin does not contribute state money.

Sorenson said 80 percent of New York farmers had not considered installing roll bars when the program began in 2005. The $1,000 cost was one factor, but so was the time involved and a denial of the fact that tractor drivers were at risk, she said.

In order to convince farmers they need roll bars, Sorenson said, New York launched an advertising campaign to go along with the state rebate program.

Anderson said his bill originally contained $1 million to help farmers buy roll bars, but on Wednesday he scaled it back to $250,000, a figure he said was more likely to be funded.

The Anderson legislation would establish a pilot program to subsidize at least 70 percent of a farmer’s cost to purchase, ship and install rollover equipment on a tractor built before 1987.

The pilot program would end in 2019.

Some tractor owners complained that they have antique machines that they take to places like county fairs, and they do not want to be forced to install the safety equipment, Anderson said.

“You don’t have to do this,” Anderson said.

Tiana Larson of the Randolph FFA chapter said she and her colleagues are concerned about tractor safety and support the law. But she expressed concern that some farmers are not certified to install roll bars themselves.

Carol Fury of Assistive Technology of Minnesota said the same thing, and encouraged lawmakers to require the farm implement industry to do the installation.

“It is easy to go into the shop and fix something,” she said. “But are you doing it right?

The bill faces many more committee stops before it can pass the Legislature.