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ROPS program is a lifesaver

CHERYL TEVIS 12/05/2012 @ 2:12pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

Farming is a family affair. Selina Rooney, a registered dietician, along with her twin sister, Siri, works at their parents' 800-acre farm near Morrisville, Vermont.

The tradition is being carried on by the next generation. Selina and her husband, Matt, have two children, Sam, 13, and Clara, 11. “Sam works on the farm after school four days a week, and Clara helps in our vegetable gardens,” Rooney says.

But the Rooneys are acutely aware of agriculture's safety risks. Statistics show that tractors are a major source of fatalities; side and rear overturns are common.

Rollover protective structures (ROPS) limit a tractor roll by 90°. Combined with a seat belt, they're 99% effective in preventing injury or death. A ROPS purchase and installation cost $800 to $2,800. The average cost is $850.

“When you farm, you always have a to-do list that's a mile long,” Rooney says. “We needed a nudge – and some financial support – to motivate us to get it done.”

That's what University of Vermont surveys indicate. “Farmers tell us they don't have the time to locate a ROPS or the money to pay for it,” says Matt Myers, University of Vermont Extension safety specialist, Morrisville.

The Vermont Rebate for Rollbars program, launched in 2010, fits the bill. Rooney applied to retrofit a 1975 International tractor. The rebate and a Lamoille County economic development grant covered 75% of the $1,000 purchase cost.

“We use this tractor for baling hay; we don't have a single flat field,” she says.

In the first five weeks of Vermont's program, 20 farmers bought ROPS units. “To date, 331 farmers have called our ROPS hotline, and 126 have installed ROPS,” Myers says. (For the hotline, call 877/767-7748.)

Farmers in the Northeast experience the highest rates of overturn fatalities. Retrofit programs in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania are modeled after one initiated in 2006 by the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health in Cooperstown. To date, 900 tractors have been retrofitted in New York. (Visit http://rops4u.com.)

The maximum ROPS rebates range from $766 to $865. Federal funds come from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health; at the state level, companies, corporations, individuals, and state government contribute.

The National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield, Wisconsin, is launching a ROPS pilot project in 2013. (Go to www.marshfieldclinic.org/nfmc.)

Two state Farm Bureaus sponsor ROPS rebate programs for their members. In North Carolina, members can qualify for up to $500 toward purchase and installation. The rebate in Virginia is up to $400.

You can access an online catalog to locate companies manufacturing ROPS. Antique models may be cost-prohibitive to retrofit and too risky for continued use.

“Farmers should consider ROPS as a health or life insurance policy,” says Aaron Yoder, Pennsylvania State University Extension safety specialist.

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