Getting rid of the need for bees

Friends and neighbors gather for a corn picking bee in the fall of 1953 to help Dello "Shorty" Minshall and his family with the harvest after Dello lost his hand in a corn picking accident on the farm. Bees on the farm were a common practice in decades past, when farm families needed help to get the crop in or out of the fields — especially in the event of farm injuries or fatalities, which continue to make agriculture one of the top high-risk occupations today.

Getting rid of the need for bees

Bees aren’t just about honey.

Bees are also a time for a community to gather as one to help a neighbor in need. Threshing and picking bees, common farm practices in the 19th and 20th centuries, gave aid not only to farmers during an era of limited technology, but also came to their rescue when injury and illness prevented a season’s crop from being tended.

There has been a resurgence in this old-fashioned gathering in recent years, with numerous bees making headlines in community papers, even national news. Though a heartwarming trend for the agricultural community, the reason for this renewed interest in bees may correlate with a less positive trend: Farm-related injuries and fatalities are on the rise.

The theory behind this issue is twofold, according to a report by John Rush with the National Ag Safety Database: First, as the agriculture workforce dwindles, farm-related accidents are not decreasing in parallel proportion, and second, the current average age of American farmers is increasing as more youth leave the family farm to pursue other interests.

Farming is currently the sixth most dangerous occupation in America, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and second in mortality rates to construction. In a calendar year, one-third of all farmers will experience a work-related injury, and fatalities occur at a rate of about 21 deaths per 100,000 farmers.

Additionally, youths are at a particular risk for farm-related injury or death. The CDC reported an estimate of 12,000 youth injured on a farm in 2014, with 4,000 of those injuries directly related to working on the farm.

Mortality rates among farm youth are even worse — Rush’s report found that of all American youths ages 15-24 who die each year, more than half are due to farm accidents.

Fortunately, in today’s technological climate, there is also a growing trend of inventions to combat injuries from farm work.

For two main culprits of farm injury — tractors and grain bins — there are simple solutions. The invention of Roll-Over Protective Structures (ROPS) significantly decreased injury and death due to tractor overturns, and safety harnesses have had the same positive outcome for grain bin fatalities.

Every year, professionals in the agriculture industry continue to update these and many other existing safety measures, and develop new technologies, to keep farmers safer at work and the need for old-fashioned farm bees at bay.

Katy Moore can be reached at katy.moore@lee.net.