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A father's safety message

Four decades ago, Roger Stutsman and Kelley Donham were members of the same high school wrestling squad. Today, they're teaming up against a heavyweight opponent: farm injuries and fatalities.

Donham, director of Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH), oversees prevention and education programs. Stutsman farms 2,000 acres with family and raises cattle near Hills, Iowa. He's part owner of Eldon C. Stutsman, Inc., a trucking, manure-handling, fertilizer, and chemical business.

The two stayed in touch over the years. Then Stutsman's 33-year-old son, Michael, died in 2008 from farm injuries. Roger volunteered to serve on the I-CASH advisory council, along with Marilyn Adams, founder, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids.

"I've heard Roger take his message to kids at a safety education day," Adams says. "He says the death rate in farming is unacceptable. As a father, he also wants to save young lives."

Agriculture consistently ranks among the most hazardous U.S. occupations. The overall fatality rate in the U.S. in 2007 was 3.7 per 100,000 workers, but the rate for those with farming or ranching as a major occupation was 38.4 per 100,000.

Farm equipment is involved in a majority of fatalities. Older machinery often lacks effective safety guards. Stutsman is working to propose a tax credit for installing safety devices and retrofits. The tax credit would cover 20% of the cost and installation, up to $2,500 per year per operator. Initially, it would apply to the following safety devices and retrofits:

  • Rollover protective structures (ROPS).
  • Grain bin steps.
  • Lighting and marking on farm equipment.
  • Power take-off (PTO) guards.
  • Safe combine header release mechanisms.

Donham says the tax credits might boost participation in I-CASH's Certified Safe Farm (CSF) program. Created in 1998, it offers voluntary audits (Learn more).

Donham and Stutsman say safety tax credits also could spur the rural economy by creating and adding manufacturing jobs.

"Grain wagons need safety grates," Stutsman says. "Any shop could make these." I-CASH could serve as a clearinghouse to approve retrofits that don't require manufacturer approval.

Stutsman is working with a friend and farmer, Loran Steinlage, on a combine head safety restraint during transport. New equipment has safety tethers. The restraint, including brackets, safety chains, and mounting hardware, would cost about $50. Positioned on each side of the hauler, it also would safeguard the process of changing combine heads.

Since Michael's death, Stutsman is channeling his grief into ideas to safeguard others. He and his wife, Sally, adopted Michael as a baby. "He was everything we wanted in a son," he says. Michael and his wife, Jessica, have a daughter, Sophie May.

Donham says tax credits have the potential to save lives. "There's no single safety fix," he says. "Farmers need incentives to look at the big picture and create an overall farm safety program."

Four decades ago, Roger Stutsman and Kelley Donham were members of the same high school wrestling squad. Today, they're teaming up against a heavyweight opponent: farm injuries and fatalities.

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