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Share the road with essential workers

The coronavirus has stopped a lot of commerce, but it can’t stop the calendar. Spring is here, and the planting season is getting underway. Backyard vegetable gardens in Calvert might get more attention than ever before with so many folks at home and looking to stay out of grocery stores as much as possible.

More generally, regarding commercial agriculture and its effect on the state’s food supply chain, Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder recently said: “Agriculture and food production are essential industries that provide food and fiber for all and play a critical role in the state’s economy. As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, I want to assure all of our farmers, watermen, producers, agribusinesses, wholesalers, distributors, consumers and the many other members of Maryland’s food supply chain that the state is working hard to continue business as usual with minimal interruptions.”

He said due to the pandemic, the state is in uncharted territory that might require some creativity and flexibility on the part of growers.

With the warm weather comes the need for farmers to get planting to stay on schedule. That means motorists traveling along Southern Maryland highways and rural roads may occasionally find themselves sharing the road with the large, slow-moving farm equipment from one of Maryland’s 12,400 farms.

“Farmers are legally allowed to operate farm equipment on public roadways, and there are times when farm vehicles must operate on highways to move between farm and field,” Bartenfelder said in another release. “I encourage all motorists to be patient when traveling on roads near Maryland farms and drive with caution to ensure the safety of motorists and farmers.”

This planting season the Maryland State Highway Administration and the Maryland Department of Agriculture are working together to educate drivers to expect farm equipment on rural routes, and to approach these vehicles with caution.

Farming equipment is very large, and likely will share travel lanes while working along farmland adjacent to Maryland roads.

If you encounter farm equipment, the SHA says, a farmer understands that your trip is being delayed, so he or she will most likely pull off the road at the first available safe location to allow you to pass. Do not assume that the farmer can immediately move aside. Road shoulders may be soft, wet or steep, and this can cause a farm vehicle to tip, or the road’s shoulder may be unable to support a heavy farm vehicle.

The following tips will help ensure the safety of motorists, passengers and operators of slow-moving equipment:

• If a farmer has pulled off the road to allow you to pass, or if he or she cannot pull off the road and you feel you must pass, do so with caution;

• Be aware of vehicles behind you that may also try to pass;

• If you must enter the oncoming lane of traffic, do not pass unless you can see clearly ahead of both you and the vehicle you will pass;

• If there are any curves or hills ahead that may block your view or the view of oncoming vehicles, do not pass;

• Do not pass if you are in a designated “no passing zone” or within 100 feet of any intersection, railroad grade crossing, bridge, elevation structure or tunnel; and

• Do not assume that a farm vehicle that pulls to the right side of the road is going to turn right or is letting you pass. Due to the size of some farm implements, the farmer driving that equipment must execute wide left-hand turns. If you are unsure, check the operator’s hand signals and check the left side of the road for gates, driveways or any place a farm vehicle may turn.

With just a few precautions, and by using common sense, motorists and farmers can share the road safely. It’s an essential business, after all. If you like to eat, thank a farmer.