Roger Wilcox in field

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

Staying safe in the summer

June 20, 2024 | Jeff Hutton

For soybean producers, being prepared for the unknown is just part of living life on the farm.

Whether it’s fluctuating markets, input costs, the weather or policy changes in Des Moines or D.C., farmers know there are few certainties out in the field. So often, they have to recalibrate throughout the spring planting season and/or at harvest time.

But being prepared and alert during the summer months is just as important, especially when it comes to one’s safety.

Addie Olson, the public health communications officer for the Polk County Health Department (PCHD), says it’s important Iowa farmers and those in rural populations take heed of some important guidelines.

“As unpredictable as summer in Iowa can be, there are a few things we can say with certainty that will happen year after year,” she says. “We will be on the receiving end of severe weather, including dangerous storms and extreme heat. Bugs and wildlife will be ever-present, sometimes carrying diseases that can harm humans. And Iowans will be outdoors – whether enjoying warmer days after a hard winter, or nourishing the farmland that, in turn, provides for all of us.”

Beating the heat

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of people killed by extreme heat in the United States is increasing each year, with more than 2,300 deaths occurring due to heat in 2023.

Olson says hot and humid weather can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke, especially for those working outdoors for extended periods of time like farmers.

She says those out in the field should know the signs of heat-related illness, including:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Muscle spasms
  • Visible changes to the skin (cold and clammy or hot, red and dry)
  • Fast pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • High body temperature

Olson says if someone is experiencing confusion and dizziness, their skin is hot and dry, they have a body temperature of 104 degrees or higher, or becomes unconscious, call 911 immediately. Those impacted should be moved to a cooler area. Olson recommends removing extra clothing lower their body temperature with water or ice.

The PCHD says it’s vital to stay hydrated before, during and after time spent out in the field. Wear a hat, lightweight clothing and plenty of sunscreen. Limit time outdoors if possible and take breaks often.

Karen Bennett, a senior marketing communications specialist with UnityPoint-Des Moines says water and lots of it can help with keeping hydrated.

“Drink plenty of water and avoid liquids that can dehydrate the body, such as beverages with caffeine and/or lots of sugar and alcoholic drinks,” she says. “Also, avoid very cold drinks, because that can cause stomach cramps.”

Bennett says heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body that need to be replaced. While a sports drink can replace salt and minerals, if you’re on a low-salt diet, have diabetes, high blood pressure or other chronic conditions, contact your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets.

Summertime pests

With the significant amount of moisture the state has received thus far, many farm fields are looking good.

But the heavy rainfall this past spring also means the bugs are thriving, too. Illnesses caused by ticks and mosquitos are called vector-borne diseases, and that can make you sick.

Before farmers go outside to check on their soybeans and other crops, Olson recommends the following:

  • Use an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellent. When used as directed, these repellents are proven safe and effective.
  • Wear loose-fitting, long clothing to protect yourself from mosquito and tick bites.
  • Treat clothing and gear with 0.5% permethrin – both a medication and insecticide.

And even after a farmer escapes the heat and summertime pests, they should also consider these tips:

  • Check your body for ticks after being outdoors and remove an attached tick as soon as possible.
  • Take a shower within two hours of coming indoors to help wash off unattached ticks and to check your body for ticks.
  • Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing.

Olson says the PCHD recommends that if a farmer notices a bug bite that is red and swollen, they should contact their health care provider as soon as possible.

Enjoy the ride safely

Off-road Vehicles (ORV), which include All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV), Utility Task Vehicles (UTV), and Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles (ROV), are important tools in agriculture. However, these vehicles are also associated with higher rates of injuries and fatalities, in both work and recreational use.

Marshall County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Veren says he has seen a noticeable increase in ATV and UTV crashes in central Iowa, as well as other rural areas throughout Iowa in recent years.

“In most situations, it’s just a case of being in a hurry,” he says. “These injuries are very preventable. Often times, farmers are doing chores and shorts jaunts to their fields and they overlook the speed and other protections they need to take.”

Those in agriculture should also remember that with these vehicles have no airbags or some of the other protections offered in trucks and cars.

“Speed doesn’t seem like a big deal until you get in a crash,” he says.

The veteran law enforcement officer says ATV and UTV manufacturers recommend that drivers and passengers wear helmets and secure their seatbelts.

“We’re seeing statewide these side-by-side vehicle accidents are more severe because occupants were not wearing either a helmet or their seatbelts,” Veren says.

According to Iowa’s Center for Agriculture Safety and Health (I-CASH), ORVs are prohibited on most roadways; however, there are legal exceptions for occupational use, including use in agriculture.

Iowa Code states that ORVs can be operated on Iowa public roadways for agricultural purposes with the following limitations:

  • Operator must have a valid driver’s license.
  • Speed must not exceed 35 mph.
  • Operation must occur between sunrise and sunset.

I-CASH notes that while the Iowa occupational exemption is important for farmers traveling between fields, ORVs are not designed for roadway use. As a result, using them on roads can be unsafe and operators should take extra precautions:

  • Be as visible as possible by purchasing a brightly colored vehicle and wearing bright clothing.
  • Display a fluorescent orange flag on ATVs at least five feet above the ground.
  • ALWAYS wear a helmet. Among ATV injuries in Iowa, those wearing a helmet were 80% less likely to have suffered a head injury.
  • Use seatbelts in ROVs and do not have additional riders on ATVs.
  • If the ROV has the ability to unlock the rear differential, do so before traveling on roadways.


Farmers often go out alone to survey their fields or pastureland, sometimes several miles away from the farmhouse.

Regardless of the season, Veren says it’s important that producers share their whereabouts with family and friends before venturing out.

“With rural accidents and in remote areas, those injured or incapacitated are often not discovered for a long time,” he says. “In general, making sure someone knows where you are, could be a lifesaver.”

While many farmers carry a cell phone with them and are able to call for help or assistance, first responders sometimes have difficulty finding the caller.

Although technology is increasingly better than in years past, Veren says there are still many pockets within rural areas that have a tough time connecting to 911 operators.

“It’s important that your cell phone is charged and that you have it with you in case of an emergency,” he says. “If 911 operators are struggling to connect with someone who may be injured or stranded, texting conversations or possibly video chat might also be of use.”