Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Farm Safety--Precautions, Danger, and Healing

A Quicksand of Grain

Farm Safety Week is a good time to reiterate how dangerous farming can be, and a recent article highlighted that peril in the form of two gripping episodes in Midwest grain bins. On a farm in Iowa, a young man made an "astonishing Lazarus-like emergence from the depths of a grain bin." His life was saved due to actions taken by friends, and his "whimsical" purchase of a respiratory mask at a farm show. The grain bin safety item turned out to be "the purchase of a lifetime."

In Wisconsin, a long-time farmer was "lulled to sleep" by the sea of corn he stepped into. Once again friends, family, and--as in many cases--emergency workers helped to free him. Purdue University’s Bill Field is an authority on grain bin accidents, and he emphasizes the dangers of delay following the critical moments of an accident. “Every second is crucial.”         

National Farm Safety Week

Farming ranks high on the list of dangerous professions, and every year we read about tractor accidents, grain bin deaths, and other tragedies. Using technology, education, and safety awareness, the agriculture community is working hard to change the grim statistics. 

Each year since 1944, the third week of September has been recognized as National Farm Safety and Health Week. This annual promotion--initiated by the National Safety Council--has been proclaimed as such by each sitting U.S. President since Franklin D. Roosevelt. The development and dissemination of National Farm Safety and Health Week is led by the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, the agricultural partner of the National Safety Council. 

It's What Farmers Do

This archived blog includes many links regarding farm safety incidents, procedures, and statistics. One aspect the statistics can't show is the way rural communities respond to tragedy. As the final story in this blog shows, accidents occur way too often, and "danger in the fields" is always lurking--but friends and family are there to create a bond of healing.  

by dan gogerty (top photo from ChrisBennett.farmjournal.com and bottom graphic from usda)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Can Video Games Help Mitigate Agricultural Risks?

Recently, my boyfriend dusted off his Playstation 1 and popped in the oldie-but-goodie farm simulation game Harvest Moon (originally released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 1990s). 

I watched him laboriously build his farm, plant crops, and take care of livestock. One animal that gave him particular trouble was Rusty, a clever, mischievous horse that somehow managed to escape the barn whenever it rained. My boyfriend spent 20 minutes chasing that horse into the barn so the darn thing wouldn’t get sick. Ironically, it was my boyfriend’s character (not the horse) that ended up in the hospital because he overworked himself.

Testing Risk in a “Safe” Space
While the game is quite simple, some of its objectives and outcomes seem pretty realistic. And those components of the game have only advanced since the 90s--so much so that real-life farmers are playing the latest farm simulation games to test out authentic equipment, operations, and scenarios based on their real-world equivalents. 

For example, Farming Simulator boasts their 2019 update includes “300 authentic vehicles and machines now including John Deere - but also Case IH, New Holland, Challenger, Fendt, Massey Ferguson, Valtra, Krone, Deutz-Fahr, and many more.” (By the way, the game’s fan base has grown so much, there’s a convention dedicated to it, and the game can now be played competitively.) 

This game allows players to dive into agriculture and use different equipment and strategies that they may not have access to in the real world. Essentially, they can take on as much risk as they want and suffer only virtual, game-based consequences, not real ones (except in my boyfriend's case, where he suffered from short-term annoyance).

Testing risk and risk management of farmers seems to be a theme in 2019. For example, a University of Vermont study used video games to better understand risk management practices of farmers through different scenarios. Based on the scenarios introduced, players changed their behaviors in the game to reduce risks. The study found that the smallest behavior changes dramatically impacted the outcome of preventing a risk, which can be used to create more effective strategies in real-world situations.

Another study released this year argues that “serious gaming” (i.e., games that aren’t played for entertainment purposes) should be considered as a communication strategy in agriculture to open up “new ways of thinking” about critical issues, such as climate change, and help provide new adaptive strategies.

Research of the Future?
Testing human behavior and attitude change via video games is becoming more popular because of the digital era we live in. And it’s a safe, controllable place to test strategies aimed at preventing serious risks such as the spread of livestock diseases (see the UVM study above). 

It will be interesting to see how this intersection of agricultural and psychological research progresses in the coming years as scientists work out new ways to prevent risk and mitigate issues such as climate change and African swine flu outbreaks. 

By Kim
Illustration made in Canva

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Member Spotlight Q&A: Dr. Sally Flis

Our members are the lifeblood of our organization. They are students, farmers, researchers, department heads, industry experts, food scientists, agronomists--the list goes on. No matter their background, we all have the same wish: to assemble, create and share credible, balanced, science-based information. 

Read about who makes up CAST in our Member Spotlight series. In this post, you will meet Dr. Sally Flis.

Meet Dr. Sally Flis
Director of Agronomy

Who do you represent and what is your role at CAST? 
I represent The Fertilizer Institute, we are the industry trade group for fertilizer manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers in the U.S. I serve as the chair of the Plant Work Group and as the representative to the CAST Board of Directors from the Plant Work Group.

How long has your organization been a member of CAST? How long have you been a member of CAST?
TFI has been a member of CAST for 3 years and so have I.

How did you first hear about CAST? 
I had heard about CAST at some regional American Society of Agronomy Meetings and through visits to TFI from Kent [Schescke] and other board members.

What agricultural issue is most important to your organization? What agricultural issue is most important to you? 
Water and air quality are high concern for our organization and reducing loss to these systems through improved 4R nutrient stewardship practices. 

To me the most important issue is general knowledge of crop and animal production systems and the science that is used to make decisions every day on the farm.

Why does your organization support CAST? Why do you choose to support CAST? 
TFI supports CAST because of the quality of the programming across the board, from the papers to the role out events to the annual meeting. TFI values the approach to distilling and disseminating ag science. 

I value CAST for all of the same reasons in addition to the person connections I have made in a broader spectrum of the industry through involvement in the working group and on the board.

What role does CAST play in our society? 
CAST plays a critical role in distilling and analyzing the body of work available on ag science topics that makes it easier to share with everyone.

Thank you, Dr. Flis, for sharing your story and why you are a member of CAST.

Stay tuned for our next installment in CAST’s Member Spotlight series.