My whole family gets excited when the calendar reaches mid-August. Like many kids who are involved in agriculture, the State Fair brings both a healthy spirit of competition and pride when their work culminates and they present their 4-H and FFA projects. As a parent, there’s also a little spark of relief knowing that school is just around the corner and will once again bring a normal routine to our house. I know I’m not alone. 

With the return of school comes big yellow school buses on our roads. It is time to be alert – and patient – behind the steering wheel. Coming soon, you can also expect to see a plethora of other large and slow-moving farm vehicles and equipment gearing up for harvest. 

The unpredictable weather that farmers and ranchers have faced this year has thrown the traditional farming schedule for a loop, especially for those harvesting hay. The terrible drought conditions throughout May, June and July have given way to a deluge of rain in many areas of the state. While we appreciate the precipitation, many will not see full relief for months to come.  Nonetheless, you can expect to see an increased number of tractors and hay equipment – in addition to combines and grain trucks – on the road in the coming weeks. The early drought severely impacted hay yield in May and June, creating a desperate need for more forage to prepare for the upcoming winter months. Additionally, many Missouri farmers were forced to feed hay throughout the summer as pastures dried up. Recent rains will help fall pasture growth and give farmers a chance to put away more hay before winter. Putting up hay, on top of the normal crop harvest, means it’s going to be a bustling harvest season on farms and on rural roads. 

Add in the back-to-school season with the influx of school buses and young drivers behind the wheel and driver safety becomes even more important. Whether it’s a bus full of kids, a slow-moving tractor and hay rake, or a large combine, these vehicles contain precious cargo, and we want everyone to return home to their families. Driver patience will be important to everyone’s safety.

This is just another reason why the Missouri Department of Transportation’s (MoDOT) successful “Buckle Up, Phone Down!” campaign has been so important in recent years. MoDOT also reminds drivers each fall to always “expect the unexpected” when children head back to school. Both of these are essential lessons for drivers when approaching farm equipment as well. Looking down at your phone and crashing into the back of farm equipment can have deadly outcomes for both operators. A tractor stands taller than an elephant and can have many blind spots. When fully loaded with grain, a combine harvester weighs up to 36 tons. Always “expect the unexpected” when drawing near to this equipment and be patient while sharing the road.

Let’s all have a safe start to the school year and upcoming harvest season. Taking a few extra moments on the road can go a long way in making sure that happens.