NC State University/ Dr. David Crouse
Sweet corn production at Open Grounds Farm in eastern North Carolina. Photo credit: Soil Science @ NC State

By Taylor Knopf

Farms can be great places for kids: There are cool animals and lots of space to run around.

Farms can also be dangerous for kids: Every day, an average of 33 children are injured in agricultural-related incidents across the United States.

And about every three days, one child dies in a farm-related event, according to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. The leading causes of death for youth on farms are machinery incidents, tractor and ATV accidents, and drowning.

There are more than 2 million farms in the U.S., with around 1 million youth living on those farms. About half of those kids also work on the farm. Additionally, every year about 270,000 youth living off the farm are hired to do agricultural work. There has also been a rise in agricultural tourism and about 24 million children visit farms each year.

Despite the risks, experts say it’s good and healthy for youth to work and live on a farm.

shows data on occupational fatalities in the US among workers younger than 16 years old
Data, infographic courtesy: National Children’s Center

There is lots of room for kids to play. They develop a passion and respect for the land. There tends to be a strong work bond with family on the farm. Farms teach kids about the life and death cycle. They can be good places to instill a work ethic and teach responsibility. And farm kids have “awesome pets,” said Marsha Salzwedel, youth agricultural safety specialist with National Farm Medicine Center at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute.

Salzwedel grew up on a farm herself and said there are so many benefits to growing up in that environment. And she said if parents follow guidelines developed by the National Children’s Center, kids can be safe and happy there.

“Children doing work that does not match their developmental level is associated with increased injury risk,” Salzwedel said.

She suggests that parents use online, interactive safety guidelines to determine what tasks and locations on the farm are safe for different age groups. The interactive guide has a list of activities, such as “feeding hay to livestock” and “working with poultry.” Each activity has a suggested age range with a list of questions to ensure your child is able to do this task.

animated illustrations showing chidlren of different ages participating in farm activities.
Screenshot from the national Children’s Center interactive guide to age-appropriate farm activities for children

“Just because someone turns 18, doesn’t mean they are magically able to do the job,” Salzwedel said.

The guide has no tasks for children age 6 and under. Salzwedel advises that children this young stay out of farm work areas. She added that 60 percent of youth farm fatalities are kids younger than 10.

Little kids are more likely to be backed over by tractors and they will often distract adults, she said.

“Keeping children safe and happy on farms is ultimately the responsibility of the adult,” Salzwedel said. “Adults set boundaries and enforce them, provide supervision, assign tasks, provide training and mitigate hazards.”

She added that adults need to model safety precautions in their own work.

“As adults on the farm, we have to walk the talk and wear the protective equipment,” Salzwedel said, listing five top recommendations for child safety in agricultural settings.

1. Keep young children off of tractors, which are the leading cause of fatalities.
2. Keep young kids out of worksites.
3. Ensure age and ability appropriate work.
4. Ensure a safe environment.
5. Provide training and build proficiencies.

Pie graph showing motor vehicles and machines making up a total of 42% of fatalities.
Data, infographic courtesy: National Children’s Center

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Taylor Knopf

Taylor Knopf writes about mental health, including addiction and harm reduction. She lives in Raleigh and previously wrote for The News & Observer. Knopf has a bachelor's degree in sociology with a...