Agritourism is a large sector of industry throughout the Northeast, and it’s a way for farmers to showcase their hard work to the public. While opening up a farm to a large audience can be a great way to promote agriculture, there are important safety considerations to keep in mind. In a recent webinar, Randy White of White Hutchinson addressed key points for audiences and farmers participating in hayrides this fall season.

For 28 years, White has worked in agritourism and at the same time has witnessed several severe injuries on hayrides for various reasons. He noted some of the most common causes include children falling, a tractor losing control, the hay wagon disconnecting from the tractor and several other incidences. All of these are unfortunate situations can luckily be prevented.

A farmer can take several safety precautions when giving hayrides, and they all begin before the tractor is started and the hay wagon is mounted. First, consideration should be given to the route of the hayride. The entire route should always be fenced to prevent other people from crossing the path of the tractor. Additionally, the route should never intersect with a public road, as White recalled an incident of a vehicle collision while on a hayride. The landowner also needs to pay attention to the terrain and create smooth paths for the tractor with no ruts or steep areas, and any bushes or trees along the way should be trimmed.

The next round of recommendations revolved around the specific setup of the tractor and the wagon. When people are riding on a hay wagon, the railings should always be at least 30 inches high. Seating should be provided in some capacity, whether it is hay bales or built-in benches. It is recommended that the wagon have a gate at the loading zone that can be latched shut while the ride is happening. Having double wagons being towed by one tractor is frowned upon (unless the course is completely flat and a staff person is able to ride on each wagon and effectively communicate with the driver of the tractor). A good rule of thumb is for the tractor to weigh more than the gross weight of a wagon full of people (this can be estimated). Additionally, the tractor must have rear-view mirrors, a tamper-proof locking hitch pin and a locking safety chain.

Before loading and unloading, the tractor needs to come to a complete stop, be put in neutral and have its brake engaged. If the ground grade is greater than 2%, the driver should remain on the tractor throughout loading and unloading, and it is preferable to have a ground attendant as well. While the hayride is in route, the tractor cannot exceed 5 – 10 mph (this speed is highly variable on the terrain).

While this list of precautions can seem extensive, it is important to remember they are meant to protect riders as well as the farm. Taking safety measures is a way for the farm to manage accountability and risk. A farmer can be better prepared if an incident occurs by completing route and equipment inspections and providing clear rules and expectations for riders and farm staff. Should an incident occur, a farm should have protocols in place, such as an emergency evacuation plan and a method to report incidents if an insurance claim presents itself.

White noted that hayrides can be used to tell a story about a farm, and a real way for the owners to take pride in their work and engage with the public about agriculture. Safety standards help to ensure a safe experience for everyone and make for a profitable and efficient experience for a farm to offer.

by Hannah Majewski