Be Aware of Ditch Haying Dangers

Jul 14, 2022

As the 2022 haying season is in full swing, North Dakota State University Extension farm and ranch safety coordinator Angie Johnson urges farmers and ranchers to put safety first when haying ditches.


“Precipitation has greatly improved the 2022 hay crop, but in some areas, excessive moisture has been a challenge,” says Johnson. “The increase in surface and subsoil moisture means producers who cut, rake and bale road ditch hay have to watch out for water in the ditches that could lead to dangerous washouts, exposed culverts and soft spots.”

Before haying, Johnson recommends that farmers and ranchers inspect road ditches and take the following actions:

  • Mark out areas where culverts are present but may be tough to see while cutting hay.
  • Plan for road signs, mailboxes, power poles and unusual obstructions, such as stakes, wire flags or other markers that may have been placed by county and state highway departments in anticipation of road maintenance.
  • Check for standing water and steep embankments. The amount of overland flooding and erosion caused by water movement this spring caused many roadsides to become steep, washed out and eroded, creating potentially hazardous conditions that may not be visible due to full-grown grass masking the soil surface.
  • Walk through ditches to pick up any litter, rubber tires or other odd items discarded or lost from traveling motorists to help avoid equipment damage and garbage in your hay.

Haying ditches has unique safety concerns any year due to the highly variable sloped surfaces of ditches. Unsafe practices or conditions can create wear and tear on equipment, damage equipment or cause injuries or even death.

“Your first line of defense while haying ditches needs to be the use of a tractor that has a fully enclosed cab or rollover protection system (ROPS) bar,” says Johnson. “In an open cab tractor, a ROPS bar in combination with a seat belt can protect you from being thrown and becoming pinned underneath tractor tires in the event the tractor tips or rolls due to the steep conditions of a ditch.”

The National ROPS Rebate Program may help recover the costs of purchasing and installing a ROPS bar. Visit for more information.

Other important safety practices related to equipment include:

  • Utilize dual rear wheels on the tractor to add balance and stability.
  • Use the right sized baler for the size and power of the tractor. Most round balers have a high center of gravity, increasing the chance of tipping over, especially if one of the baler’s tires drops into an unseen hole or culvert.
  • Grease your baler’s bearings and lubricate chains.
  • Check for any belt tears, missing pickup teeth and bands, discoloration of paint near the roller bearings (a sign of heat damage which could mean a faulty bearing needs to be replaced), wrapped up twine or netwrap in rollers, and any additional preventative maintenance steps your baler’s operator manual provides.
  • For square baling, keep an eye on the baler’s knotters and never attempt to work on the baler while the power takeoff (PTO) is engaged or when the flywheel is still in motion.

For all balers, ensure all safety shields are in place, the PTO is disengaged (with tractor off) and safety locks are applied when performing maintenance and repairs.

During haying, keep the following safety concerns in mind:

  • Be visible. When you are ready to start haying, make sure you are using hazard lights and turn signals to let motorists know where you are going.
  • Have a slow-moving vehicle sign on your tractor and baler that is visible to motorists behind you.
  • If you have to weave onto the road to avoid hitting road signs or mailboxes while haying ditches, stop, watch for traffic and only approach the road when no motorists are present.
  • When picking up small square bales of ditch hay off the shoulder of the road to be loaded and stacked onto a trailer, wear safety clothing so you are visible to motorists and trailer drivers at all times.
  • Use an air compressor to blow dry matter, such as leaves, dust and plant stems, off the baler after every 50 to 75 round bales made to help reduce the risk of fire.
  • Check you operator’s manual to determine how often you must grease and lubricate your baler for routine maintenance.
  • Have a working fire extinguisher with you along with your cellphone in case you need to call for help.
  • Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Let someone know where you are and how long you plan to be haying.

“Ditch hay is expensive enough as it is due to the amount of equipment, labor, time and hazardous conditions that are present with each ditch,” says Johnson. “Take time to plan and evaluate the risks versus benefits of baling ditch hay. The bales produced from it are not worth losing a life. Safety precautions can help prevent a tragic incident from occurring while making hay this summer.”

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