FARGO – When Angie Johnson drives the 50 miles to work every morning, she thinks.
She remembers the worry she felt when family members were injured while growing up on a ranch in Galesburg, North Dakota. She calculates what the stressful combination of COVID-19, politics, low commodity prices and problematic weather conditions could bring to rural North Dakota residents.
As the long-awaited and newly hired Farm and Ranch Safety Coordinator for Extension Services at North Dakota State University, Johnson aims to send farmers and ranchers a message to “slow down and take it down. time to teach, “she said from her desk, wearing her NDSU hat and sweatshirt for the day of the game.
While the idea of slowing down is foreign to most farmers and ranchers during harvest or planting seasons, the concept can save lives, she said.
The NDSU extension office has not had an agricultural security coordinator since 2005, said extension director Lynette Flage.
“Extension has been asking for help with farm safety for some time,” Flage said. The department has repeatedly approached the state legislature with requests, but they were denied until 2021, when the coronavirus pandemic added invisible stressors to rural residents.
Two years ago, Charlie Stoltenow, professor and deputy director of extension services, described the situation as a “perfect storm” when the trade war, a late and wet planting season and low commodity prices collapsed. come together to form a “melting pot of stress” for farmers and ranchers.
These ingredients became more stressful when COVID-19 became of added concern.
“It seemed like there were more and more headlines about agriculture and more work-related accidents,” Flage said. “While COVID returned, there was a lot more stress, commodity prices were low due to trade wars, and when farmers or ranchers feel that stress, it’s easier not to follow protocols. of security. “
With their case for aid in hand, representatives for the extension traveled to the Legislature again in 2021, and while they didn’t get everything they wanted, they did. had enough to restart the program full time.
“We insisted that we really needed someone to specialize in this job, and Angie was doing it part-time, and is now really able to do it full-time for us,” said Flage.
In total, the legislature approved $ 240,000 per biennium, or $ 120,000 in operational support per year for the Extension Services Security Program, which will cover salaries, benefits, and any operational support Johnson needs. for his research and education in 53 extension systems, Flage said.
Recording injuries on the farm is difficult because family ranches do not have to report incidents to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Johnson said. Many times she has to search newspapers or social media platforms to find out about a farming accident.
As of 2012, however, Johnson’s records indicate that there have been 122 farm fatalities and injuries in North Dakota, with tractor rollovers being the deadliest type of farm accident.
In 2020, North Dakota had one of the most documented confined space accident and grain entrapment rates in the country with a total of seven cases, tied with Minnesota but lower than Illinois, which had 17, according to a study by Purdue’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program.
“It took quite a bit of injury to get the Legislature to say ‘Yes, we need it,'” Johnson said.
Managing the full-time job and the cattle she still has on her ranch is a balancing act, she said.
“I couldn’t do it without my family. When we lamb and calve it gets hectic, but my job on the farm is my therapy, ”said Johnson, 29. “And what I love is that it gives me a perspective to see what the people I serve are going through. “
Using the cowboy Woody doll from the animated film “Toy Story”, Johnson demonstrated just how dangerous grain elevators can be. Within seconds, Woody was gone under the dried corn.
Another tool on his desk warned that loose clothing can quickly get tangled in complicated farm machinery.
Examples like these are just two of the safety issues she tries to educate farmers and ranchers across the state about, but sometimes the difference between life and death can be as simple as the danger sign hanging on a chalkboard. white in his office.
Hired in October, Johnson is focused on working with young people on farms and setting up training programs, quickly too, as there is a severe shortage of seasonal workers in North Dakota as well, he said. she declared.
“Safety should always be the number one priority,” Johnson said. “People value safety, but when it’s a challenge, because until a bad experience happens, we assume we are safe. I think of it as’ How do we change our behavior? And it’s hard.