Farmworker Safety First

More than 550 citrus grove and landscape workers attended the seventh annual Ag Worker Training event held Jan. 20 at the St. Lucie County Fairgrounds west of Ft. Pierce. Each of the program break-out sessions were offered in English and Spanish, covering 12 safety and best management practice topics. Training program organizers goals were to inform workers about safety procedures to protect lives and the environment, lower the number of industry submitted insurance claims, and increase employers’ bottom lines.

“The use of two languages used by the presenters is fantastic,” said Mike Ziegler, owner of Agricultural Resource Management. “This is a good turnout for the people most important to receive the messages provided.”

Program leaders were from the UF/IFAS Indian River and Citrus Research and Education Centers along with UF/IFAS Extension agents from St. Lucie, Okeechobee, Miami-Dade, and Indian River Counties. Event sponsors were Scotts Fertilizer and Everglades Farm Equipment.

A full day of presentations and hands-on audience demonstrations included:
• fertilizer and pesticide best management practices
• mixing and loading pesticides
• tractor and equipment safety
• use and care of personal protection equipment
• worker protection standards
• fire safety techniques
• first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
• hazardous materials spill control and cleanup
• integrated pest management
• protection from venomous snakes, spiders, and Africanized honey bees
• citrus greening and canker identification
• personal hygiene and food safety.

Don’t Play With Fire Or Snakes

The St. Lucie Fire Department presentation featured a variety of fire extinguishers for a wide array of fire sources. Participants had hands-on training in actually using fire extinguishers to put out fires.

“Our workers were able to learn about the different types of fire extinguishers and which fires they can put out,” said Wayne Bohannon, Graves Brothers Groves Inc. in Vero Beach. “Some fire extinguishers won’t put out certain fires. It’s a good thing to know if there is a fire.”

Ken Gioeli, St. Lucie Cooperative Extension Agent III, Natural Resources, said venomous snakes such as the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, dusky pygmy rattlesnake, coral snake, and water moccasin can be found in many Florida regions. Equally threatening are poisonous spiders like black widows. Mammals such as raccoons, otters, and bats may harbor viruses, such as rabies. Feral hogs, he said, which are common to large ranches and groves, may use their tusks as weapons if they feel threatened.

“People working in Florida’s citrus orchards, vegetable fields, and any natural area may encounter dangerous critters,” said Gioeli. “It is important for workers to be able to identify the critters that might potentially cause them harm.”

Let The Games Begin

The tractor rodeo, landscape mower rodeo and canker and greening identification competitions were the day’s highlights. Attendees cheered their co-workers on as the safest, most competent operators emerged. Tractor and mower competitors were timed, but if the machines touched one of the markers delineating the course, 30 seconds were added for each infraction.

“Tractor drivers need to be exceptional in their understanding in physics, depth perception, and eye-hand coordination,” said Ziegler. “There are 100 things going on at once, so the skills these people have are exceptional.”

Competitors represented grower organizations from Indian River, St. Lucie, Highlands, Okeechobee, and Martin counties. For the competition, a 5075-M John Deer Tractor and 72-inch riding mower were provided by Everglades Farm Equipment of Ft. Pierce. A small, temporary grove of young citrus trees with a variety of disease and nutritional disorders stood at the center of the two competition tracks.

“The idea is for tractor drivers to handle the tractor and equipment safely. The best drivers don’t rush through the course, but rather take time to drive carefully and avoid penalties associated with hitting the course markers. It is a real challenge to back the trailer through the course without getting a penalty,” said Dr. Brian Boman, professor of agricultural engineering and the university’s statewide best management practices coordinator.

Twenty-year-old Jose Maldonado, Jr. was the winner for the tractor rodeo. He placed first with a time of 1.29 minutes, having successfully completed the relay with no marked flag interference. Based in Fellsmere, Maldonado is a heavy equipment operator for Quality Caretaking. He has been employed with the Quality for two years but has had ambitions to drive a John Deer tractor since he was very young.

Maldonado said the secret to his tractor success is ‘technique.’ He said he respects the heavy machine and his boss’s property and business investment.
“To drive a John Deer tractor has been my dream since kindergarten. It catches my attention and looks exciting,” said Maldonado. “You can do so many things with a tractor and not everyone has the privilege of driving one.”

Competitors for the citrus canker and greening identification relay examined a small grove of about 30 young trees positioned in containers. A number of the trees bore disease symptoms and others showed nutrition deficiencies.

Maria Lieffort, a worker with IMG Citrus Inc. in Vero Beach, placed first for the canker and greening identification competition. “I work with the fruit every day,” said Lieffort. “I can tell just by looking at a tree leaf what it has.”

Kristina Wright, St. Lucie County Parks and Recreation Maintenance Technician III, placed first for the landscape mower rodeo competition. She operates a mower as part of her work tasks. “I just took my time and didn’t knock over any buckets, and I watched the other drivers mess up,” said Wright.

Each place winner received a $50 Walmart gift card, and bag filled with items useful to those who work outdoors: a watertight box, knife, and sunglasses.

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories
Biocontrols 2015 Conference
CitrusGrowers Go In-Depth At Biocontrols 2015 Conference & Tradeshow
March 9, 2015
The first-of-its-kind event brought growers, researchers, regulators, and suppliers together for a two-day discussion on the latest biocontrols tools and technologies. Read More
Crop ProtectionAt Paramount Farming, Mating Disruption Pays Off
February 10, 2015
To say Brad Higbee is an expert in mating disruption, the use of pheromones to confuse target pests and reduce Read More
Crop ProtectionGrower Experienced In Biocontrols Says: Be Patient
February 4, 2015
The use of biocontrols in all aspects of agriculture is becoming more widespread. But incorporating biocontrols in a vegetable farming Read More
Farm ManagementHow To Save Money In Your Garden
April 1, 2015
Utah State University Cooperative Extension explains how you can save a bundle. Read More
GenNext GrowersPlan Ahead To Secure Farm Funding
April 1, 2015
Do your homework before applying for a grant or a loan. Read More
Washington Capitol building
Food SafetyBill To Halt Patchwork Of State GMO Labeling Laws
March 31, 2015
Reintroduced bill includes a new provision allowing for labeling products as GMO-free via USDA-certification process. Read More
BerriesSouthern Strawberry, Peach Growers Concerned About Cold Snap
March 31, 2015
Plastic coverings, sprinklers used to keep crops warm with consecutive nights of low temperatures. Read More
Food SafetyFDA Holding Public Meeting On FSMA Implementation Strategy
March 31, 2015
Forum to provide opportunity to discuss planning efforts for the next phase of Food Safety Modernization Act implementation. Read More
PotatoesNew Dual-Purpose Potato Variety Released
March 31, 2015
The russet-skinned variety from the University of Maine and the Maine Potato Board boasts high yields. Read More
CitrusMake Every Day Ag Day
March 31, 2015
Another National Ag Day came and went on March 18. Did you do anything to promote it this year? Even Read More
VegetablesSweet Potato Options For Midwest Growers
March 31, 2015
In the U.S., commercial production of sweet potatoes is mainly in the southern states, particularly North Carolina and Louisiana. The Read More
Farm ManagementLocation Is King When Marketing
March 31, 2015
University of Pennsylvania Wharton School marketing professor David Bell was being interviewed on my local NPR station about his recently Read More
HarvestingOptimize Your Asparagus Harvest
March 30, 2015
It is an exciting time of the year when asparagus spears start poking their heads out of the ground. Careful Read More
The Latest
Farm ManagementHow To Save Money In Your Garden
April 1, 2015
Utah State University Cooperative Extension explains how you can save a bundle. Read More
GenNext GrowersPlan Ahead To Secure Farm Funding
April 1, 2015
Do your homework before applying for a grant or a loan. Read More
Washington Capitol building
Food SafetyBill To Halt Patchwork Of State GMO Labeling Laws
March 31, 2015
Reintroduced bill includes a new provision allowing for labeling products as GMO-free via USDA-certification process. Read More
BerriesSouthern Strawberry, Peach Growers Concerned About Cold…
March 31, 2015
Plastic coverings, sprinklers used to keep crops warm with consecutive nights of low temperatures. Read More
Food SafetyFDA Holding Public Meeting On FSMA Implementation Strat…
March 31, 2015
Forum to provide opportunity to discuss planning efforts for the next phase of Food Safety Modernization Act implementation. Read More
PotatoesNew Dual-Purpose Potato Variety Released
March 31, 2015
The russet-skinned variety from the University of Maine and the Maine Potato Board boasts high yields. Read More
CitrusMake Every Day Ag Day
March 31, 2015
Another National Ag Day came and went on March 18. Did you do anything to promote it this year? Even Read More
VegetablesSweet Potato Options For Midwest Growers
March 31, 2015
In the U.S., commercial production of sweet potatoes is mainly in the southern states, particularly North Carolina and Louisiana. The Read More
Farm ManagementLocation Is King When Marketing
March 31, 2015
University of Pennsylvania Wharton School marketing professor David Bell was being interviewed on my local NPR station about his recently Read More
HarvestingOptimize Your Asparagus Harvest
March 30, 2015
It is an exciting time of the year when asparagus spears start poking their heads out of the ground. Careful Read More
Apples & PearsPink Lady Apple Production Continues To Grow
March 30, 2015
Total production is up nearly 50% over 2009, and is expected to increase 33% in the next three years. Read More
Food SafetyHow To Manage Food Safety Risks
March 30, 2015
You need to understand produce safety issues and what they mean to your farm. Read More
Laboratory beakers
CitrusGrowing Demand For Magnesium Nitrate Spurs TradeMark Ni…
March 30, 2015
Via enhancements made to its manufacturing plant, Florida company is able to provide more of its product to various fertilizer distributors and retailers throughout the country. Read More
Apples & PearsHow Will We Sell All These Apples? [Opinion]
March 30, 2015
Apple production is reaching heights that would have been unthinkable two or three decades ago. That's great news for growers — if we can sell them all profitably, Read More
blue orchard bee
Integrated Pest ManagementBlue Orchard Bee Shows Promise As An Alternative Pollin…
March 30, 2015
The native bee Osmia lignaria could soon be a valuable piece of the pollinator mix, especially for smaller almond growers. Read More
Richard Jones
Farm ManagementDon’t Burn Out This Spring
March 30, 2015
Finding ways to limit stress will benefit both you and your business. Read More
Apples & PearsSounding Off On GMOs: The Arctic Apple Decision
March 27, 2015
Industry leaders share their feelings on the recently approved genetically modified apples. Read More
BerriesBuilding A Better Black Raspberry
March 27, 2015
Studies focusing on consumer preference, aphid resistance, heat tolerance, and genetics aim to capitalize on an expanding market. Read More