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Illinois Country Living

Molly Hall
Molly Hall,
Director of Safe Electricity

Safety & Health:

Keep your farm family safe
Stay at least 10 feet from power lines with large farm equipment

The need to cover more acres in a day has led many farmers to acquire cultivation, planting and crop protection equipment that is larger than designers of roads and utility infrastructure ever imagined. As an example, the new John Deere planter with 48 seed boxes is 120 feet wide and provides efficiencies for large farming operations. But such a family of farm equipment provides challenges when moving from field to field, or even entering fields bordered by overhead utility lines.

Extension agricultural engineer Jay Solomon, a member of the Energy Education Council’s Safe Electricity Task Force, says, “A planter that folds and unfolds up and over itself can extend high into the air and contact electric distribution lines that could energize the planter, the tractor and threaten the life of the operator.”

Even planters that extend row markers can snag power lines. But spring planting is not the only time that farm equipment reaches high off the ground. Crop protection equipment, such as self-propelled sprayers with 40 and 60 foot length booms can easily pull thousands of volts into the equipment by touching a power line when being prepared for use or stowed for movement between fields.

Another spring hazard to farmers who have on-farm grain storage is the potential for grain augers to contact overhead utility lines when they are being prepared to unload bins into semi-trailer trucks. Such contact can energize the auger, allowing electricity to flow through the drawbar hitch into the tractor. An operator exiting the tractor can be critically or fatally injured by the current when the instant they step to the ground.

Lives and limbs are lost every year to inadvertent electrical contact by farm operators. Your 2010 pledge to yourself, your family and workers should be to faithfully use safety procedures in all facets of your farming operation.

Solomon advises farmers to keep equipment more than 10 feet below, above, and to the sides of the overhead utility lines. He says, “Many farm electrical accidents involving power lines happen when loading or preparing to transport equipment to fields, or while performing maintenance or repairs on farm machinery near lines. It can be difficult to estimate distance and sometimes a power line is closer than it looks. A spotter or someone with a broader view can help.”

Your second priority, if contact is made, is to stay in the cab of the tractor or sprayer and call for help. While your instinct may be to step away, doing that could be deadly. Using cell phones, two-way radios, and anything else you can do to draw attention will be important in preventing a family tragedy. That includes warning others to stay far away until the utility linemen have the chance to cut off the current and provide guidance in untangling from the line.

When row markers, spray booms or augers come too close to the wire it is possible for the electricity to arc or jump to the equipment which serves as a conductor. An operator in contact, who is standing on the ground, or steps down when exiting a cab, will serve as the path of the electricity to the ground.

Tragedies can also occur even when the equipment does not come in contact with an overhead wire. Turning at the end of a field, particularly with large equipment, can also cause the equipment to hook or snap a guy wire that helps to anchor utility poles. Solomon says pole guy wires are grounded to the neutral wire, but, “When one of the guy wires is broken, it can cause an electric current disruption. This can make those neutral wires anything but harmless. If you hit a guy wire and break it, call the utility to fix it.”

For More Information:

Molly Hall is the Director of Safe Electricity. E-mail: and more electrical safety information for agriculture, visit the agribusiness section of

© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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