Tractor skills assure safe operation

The frustration was evident on their faces. As young FFA tractor operators struggled to back a four-wheeled trailer into a tight spot, they became impatient with the process.

Backing a four-wheeled trailer with a tractor is not a skill listed on many job descriptions. But with farm equipment growing larger, this most difficult aspect of the rigorous FFA tractor driving contest will help youths who back larger gravity wagons into sheds during harvest.

Rodger Haselhorst, a junior FFA student at Randolph High School, and Dustin Poppe, an FFA senior at Bloomfield High School, both thought that backing the four-wheeled trailer was tough. This summer, both students joined 15 other District 4 FFA members from northeast Nebraska chapters in Bloomfield for one of the few district-level FFA tractor driving contests still held in the state. This is the second year each student has participated in the district contest.

The skill levels of different students vary in these contests. Points are assessed if students make timing or safety errors, touch markers or cross boundaries on the driving course.

“Our area has always been high in farm fatalities and accidents, so safety is always a concern,” says Ron Sukup, Creighton FFA adviser.

Although students no longer have to qualify through a district contest to participate in the state 4-H and FFA tractor operators’ contest held in April in Lincoln, safety and practical knowledge are the reasons this district contest is still held each year, Sukup says.

Safety, tractor knowledge and maintenance are all parts of the contest. In addition to driving tractors and wagons through a course and the timed backing of two-wheeled and four-wheeled trailers into a specific location, students also must identify tractor parts and tools, research tractor information from an operator’s manual, and identify safety and maintenance issues on a tractor.

Practicing safety and maintenance in a contest is one way to learn the basics. “Equipment has gotten larger,” Sukup says. “Things are so fast-paced now. We need to slow down to think about safety issues.”

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SOMEONE’S WATCHING: Dustin Poppe, a senior at Bloomfield High School, backs a manure spreader up. Ron Sukup, Creighton FFA adviser, evaluates his performance.

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PONDERING THE PARTS: FFA students, as part of the testing, must identify certain tractor parts.

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NOT FAR OFF: At the end of his run, a student measures how closely he maneuvered the tractor and wagon.

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STRAIGHT ARROW: Poppe keeps everything in line as he backs up between the poles.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.