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Farm machinery

Farm machinery sits idle in a snowy field near Orange City, Iowa, in November 2013. Due to a potentially record-setting El Niño, harvest season could be cold and snowy for area farmers.

MERRILL, Iowa | Danny Pick, of Merrill, Iowa, never saw the semitrailer that smashed into the back of his tractor on Highway 75 five years ago.

It rammed into the two loaded soybean wagons he was pulling, then up on top of the tractor. The impact shattered Pick's left leg, and damaged his right so badly it had to be amputated. The driver of the semitrailer, 81, also was injured.

Like Pick, several people have been injured in crashes involving farm equipment in Northwest Iowa in recent weeks. Five have been killed statewide.

Authorities say the crashes are a reminder for drivers to be careful as farmers finish up a harvest delayed by wet weather. Approximately 20-30 percent of the corn crop is still unharvested in the fields of Northwest Iowa, said Joel De Jong, agronomist for Iowa State University Extension.

Motorists should drive defensively, and assume a combine or large tractor may appear on the other side of any hill they crest in rural Iowa, said Woodbury County sheriff's Lt. Tony Wingert.

"They're large, they're slow and you're going to be traveling at the speed limit and they're not," he said. "You're going to come up over the hill and be right on top of one if you're not paying attention."

On Oct. 19, a Sioux City man was hospitalized when his motorcycle rear-ended a pickup truck that had slowed for a tractor on Highway 60. Zachary Lessard, 28, was flown by helicopter to a Sioux Falls hospital.

"We're going a third, maybe even a fourth, of what other people are driving as far as speed," said Pick, who operates grain and hog operations. "People come up on us really, really fast and don't realize how slow we're really going."

Farmers can also face danger on the roadways from other farm equipment.

On Saturday, a combine and tractor collided on 230th Street, 4 miles southeast of George, Iowa. The tractor driver was hospitalized with incapacitating injuries.

Less than two weeks ago, a pickup pulling two grain wagons collided with a loaded International semitrailer at Hickory Avenue and 330th Street south of Hull, Iowa. No one was injured, but the vehicles sustained an estimated $15,500 in damages.

De Jong said once the fields dry out, farmers should only need a week or two to finish up their harvest. Even then, equipment still may be on the roadways as farmers continue applying fertilizer, hauling manure and baling cornstalks for animal feed.

Pick, of Merrill, said he's thankful for the drivers who are considerate. Sometimes, people he doesn't even know will put on their hazard lights and follow his tractor on the roadway, offering more visibility and better protection.

"I do see good things, too," Pick said. "But I just see a lot of people, (while) they understand that we're out there, they just don't realize how big our equipment is and that it's a lot slower than a vehicle."

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