2008-10-02 / Local & State

Central Pa. Parents Sow Safety Into Farm Culture

By Jerry L. Gleason THE (HARRISBURG) PATRIOT-NEWS

DICKINSON, Pa. (AP) - Mary and Michael Kutz, who run a dairy farm in Cumberland County, have their teenage children help with farm chores.

It comes with the territory as part of the culture of family farms, according to agriculture experts. And it's legal.

"Kids that grow up on a farm have a different perspective than kids who live in town,'' Mary Kutz said. "We taught them at an early age that they could be hurt if they weren't careful around equipment, but I think they just knew that it could be dangerous.''

At another Cumberland County farm, those dangers recently came into focus as farmers head further into harvest season.

A 3-year-old boy died Saturday after he was hit by a tractor driven by an 11-year-old boy.

Two other central Pennsylvania children have died in farm accidents this year.

A 1-year-old boy was killed April 10 when he was run over by a truck on his family's farm near Danville. The death was ruled accidental.

A 6-year-old Amish boy was killed in a Centre County farm accident in June. State police at Rockview said the Spring Mills boy was helping his father with a hay baler when the boy was caught in a part of the machinery that compacts the hay.

The Centre County coroner ruled the death an accident.

There are no state laws or regulations that would prevent an 11- year-old from driving a tractor, according to Phil Pitzer, a farm safety expert for the state Department of Agriculture.

"It's a cultural thing,'' Pitzer said. "Kids who live on farms are operating tractors at an early age. Their parents often teach them very early, and it's often out of necessity.

"I was raised on a fruit farm in Adams County, and I was driving a tractor when I was 5 years old. Few people would do that today.''

Under federal law, a driver must be at least 18 to operate a tractor that is pulling powered equipment, such as a baler or a rotary mower, Pitzer said.

While hired laborers working at farms must take a tractor-driving course and be certified before operating tractors, Pennsylvania has not adopted a law or regulation stipulating the age at which a child can begin operating a farm tractor, Pitzer said. Such a law could make it difficult for many farm families to earn a living, he added.

"We have a tendency to overregulate and make it difficult for a farmer to operate,'' Pitzer said. "Rather than do it with regulation, we try to do a lot with education. We recommend that people send their children to farm safety day camps and similar farm safety programs.''

One seat, one rider is the rule to follow for tractors, riding lawn mowers and similar equipment, he said.

"Last year, two young boys were on a tractor with their grandfather in York County,'' Pitzer said. "One of the boys bumped the parking brake, the tractor started moving, and the other boy fell off and was crushed to death when the tractor ran over him.''

The 29 fatal farm accidents in Pennsylvania during 2007 included two involving children younger than 4, two involving children ages 10 to 14 and two involving people 15 to 19, according to statistics compiled by Penn State University.

Twelve of the 29 fatalities involved farm tractors.

"Our children were 13 or 14 before we let them drive a tractor in a field, and they had to be at least 16 before they could drive one from one farm to another,'' Mary Kutz said.

Supervision is also important in preventing accidents, she said.

"We are always there, whether it is when they are driving tractors, milking cows or helping load silage into a silo,'' she said.

Ken Martz, who with his wife, Sandy, runs a 190-acre farm in Perry County, said they stress common sense and age-appropriate tasks.

"I was driving a tractor when I was 6, but I didn't let my sons drive one until they were 12,'' Ken Martz said. "My oldest son was 14 before I let him drive one alone.

"He had to wait until I was sure he understood the responsibility and had the appropriate skills. Even so, I don't let my children do a lot of tractor work.''

Martz said his children were taught to look in all directions before starting up a tractor and when driving it.

"We also taught them at an early age that any time they hear a tractor or other machinery start up, you look around and see where it is going, and then stay out of the way,'' he said.

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