(West Lafayette, IN) - Commercial farming on a large scale is much safer nowadays, but the death toll from producing food doesn’t necessarily reflect it.
Bill Field, a farm safety expert at Purdue University, said more professionals in the workforce at or near retirement are purchasing hobby farms but wind up in major trouble from lack of experience in farming.
“I can give you a half a dozen examples of doctors, lawyers, bankers, government workers, college professors who have decided to start a small farm and, within a year, they’re dead,” he said.
Field said beginners lack skills to operate farm-related machinery safely and are not fully aware of avoiding the dangers.
He said tractors and other equipment at hobby farms also tend to be older without the safety mechanisms of modern machinery, usually too costly for a small producer to afford.
In 2020, there were 25 confirmed farm-related deaths in Indiana, according to the annual farm fatality report from the Purdue University Agricultural Safety and Health Program.
The number of deaths is four more than in 2019. Documented farm-related fatalities in the state also exceeded the 10-year average of 27.2 in four of the previous six years.
Field said another concern is deaths of older farms continue to rise. According to the report, 14 of the Indiana deaths last year involved farmers at least 60-years old. Two of the victims were over 90, and two others were in their 80’s.
Field said the rising deaths of older farmers were not surprising because the average age of a farmer at close to 60 has been going up for years.
“I don’t think that’s going to go away with the current aging process we see among farmers,” he said.