Late Harvest Calls for Extra Safety Precautions: Light Yourself Up

Wet fall weather has proved a challenge for Wisconsin farmers, putting harvest and tillage schedules behind normal pace. This calls for more time in the field and on the roads during dark hours. As the season wears on, farmers should carefully consider crucial safety actions and properly lit farm equipment that can save lives.

“We’re at a time when farmers are playing ‘catch up’ and may be tempted to overcompensate for lost time,” said John Shutske, University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension agricultural safety and health specialist and professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering. 

The highway regulations for farm equipment (Implements of Husbandry, or IoH) are relatively complex and vary based on width of equipment and other factors. In addition, new federal highway regulations signed by the President in 2012 have additional requirements for any farm machines that are moved or operated on public roadways if they were manufactured AFTER mid-2017.

The Wisconsin requirements for IoH lighting and marking are summarized in the rules of the road. While these are some of the legal requirements, there are other best practices for roadway safety that may go above and beyond and that are especially important given how late the season has gone, the possibility of poor weather and highway conditions and the fact that we now have so few hours of good daylight as days get shorter and the sun gets lower in the sky. Safe driving is especially important this time of the year.

Shutske said, “Use the correct lights and light your equipment up like a Christmas tree. You want your farm equipment to be highly visible.” 

Follow these safety tips:

  • Always use flashing lights – Regardless of state requirements, if your farm implements, tractors, combines and other machines defined as an IoH have flashing amber lights, always use them while on the road. It is critical that you attract the attention of others on the roadway as soon as is possible, giving them ample time and distance to slow down. 
  • Use turn signals – Most newer equipment with flashers also have turn signals. Use them. Many farm equipment-motor vehicle collisions occur when the slower machine is making a left hand turn as a motor vehicle is attempting to pass on the left. 
  • Check SMV emblem visibility – As the season grinds on, double check the visibility of SMV (slow moving vehicle) emblems. They should be clear, bright, clean, and unfaded. The newer SMV emblems have greater visibility from the rear and are designed with embedded retro-reflective materials that do a better job of catching light and reflecting it back to approaching motorists. Replace yours if needed. 
  • Mark the rear-most implement – If flashing amber lights, SMV emblems, reflectors and other lighting/marking is obscured (for example, if towed wagons block them on the tractor), it is critical – and required – that you provide adequate lighting and marking on the rear-most implements—even if you are only traveling a short distance on the highway. 
  • Purchase transferable equipment – On older equipment, consider purchasing flashers, lights and other equipment that can be easily moved from machine to machine if needed. New LED and battery technology is making this less difficult and can provide needed visibility at a relatively low cost without having to permanently mount and wire lighting equipment. 
  • Add additional markings – Even on older equipment, consider adding additional side marking on large machines and implements (combines, large wagons, etc.) – Retro-reflective tape is cheap, easily installed, and can save a life. 

Download a free handbook showing ideal IOH lighting and marking, including that required by federal law and compliant with national standards and best practices. 

Motor vehicle accidents are in the top 3 causes of fatal ag injuries. The importance of properly following safety tips cannot be stressed enough to reduce the statistics.  

John Shutske 
University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension 


Farming traditions run deep in the state of Wisconsin and farm safety is a priority for farmers. As the #1 Farm Insurance in Wisconsin, Rural Mutual has been protecting farms across the state for over 85 years. We also believe in protecting the families and children in our farming communities. 

Additional safety information can be found on our Farm Safety page or contact your local Rural Mutual Insurance agent.