Planting season is underway and with it comes the transportation of heavy equipment along Mississippi’s roadways.
Drivers can help support local agricultural producers and their $7.4 billion contribution to the state’s economy by staying alert while sharing the road with planters, tillers and tractor-mounted sprayers.
Alex Deason, a Mississippi State University Extension Service agent in Sunflower County, said distracted driving causes most of the collisions between personal vehicles and farming equipment.
“From the rear, motorists tend to think everything is moving along at posted speeds, when in reality, operators are traveling at much slower speeds than the posted speed limits,” Deason said. People get busy eating, texting or talking on the phone, and they just don’t realize how quickly they are approaching the back of that slow-moving equipment which causes car accidents.
Most Mississippi roads have little room to spare, so equipment operators are busy monitoring what is going on both in front of and behind their machinery, while also avoiding mailboxes, utility poles and other roadside objects.
“This may cause the operator to slow down even more and move farther into one lane or another to miss objects, which is why it is so important for drivers to allow space for the equipment,” Deason said. “Allow a little extra time to get to work, school or town in case you get caught in traffic for a few minutes.”
Planting season typically starts in March and ramps up in April and May when the majority of the crops are planted. Equipment will then be on the roads again in late August through early October as crops are harvested.
Operators are required to have operational warning lights and to display a slow-moving vehicle placard. When possible, many try to have a vehicle follow them to allow other drivers to better see in advance the equipment traveling at slower speeds.
Deason warned drivers against overtaking farm equipment at highway speeds.
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“Don’t assume when passing a piece of equipment that there is only one piece in the line,” he said. “There could easily be a convoy of machinery moving to another field, and if you can’t see around the last piece in line, you are putting yourself and the other people on the road in danger.”
Farming is known to be one of the most hazardous occupations. In addition to risks associated with moving equipment, farmers, their family members and their employees face a variety of dangers, from equipment-related injuries to pesticide exposure, financial distress and the volatile nature of global trade. Ongoing physical and emotional stress can have far-reaching effects.
MSU Extension has worked to raise awareness and support for farmers related to the unique stressors they face. Removing the stigma of mental health in rural areas and addressing the unique needs of agricultural producers and workers is a key part of this effort. Extension agents are required to participate in Mental Health First Aid training to better enable them to support their clients.
Mary Nelson Robertson, coordinator of the PReventing Opioid Misuse In the SouthEast, or the PROMISE Initiative, said the agents do not learn how to diagnose mental health challenges, but how to better identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health challenges.
“The agents learn to be ‘expert noticers’ and connect individuals who may be experiencing a mental health challenge to appropriate professional help,” Robertson said. “Extension agents are known for helping people in their communities, and agents who are trained as Mental Health First Aiders can serve as a bridge to care for community members.”
Since the program began, agents have used the information to help others. Robertson said more than 60% of trained agents reported using the skills learned in Mental Health First Aid within the first six months.
“We’ve had positive feedback from agents indicating the training has been helpful in speaking with people about sensitive topics and made them more aware of what others might be dealing with,” Robertson said. “One said the training provided the tools needed to be proactive instead of reactive.”
Anyone struggling with mental health challenges is urged to call the Mississippi Department of Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-210-8513. Individuals also can search for mental health providers near them at http://msdmh.ongovcloud.com/public.