Orrson Farms

“Safety is not an accident. Safety is something you plan for.”

After decades of experience with custom forage harvesting, Orrson Custom Farming LTD of Apple Creek, Ohio has developed strategies to manage the risks of the business. They follow strict safety protocols, provide ongoing training for crew members and keep their insurance coverage updated, said Jon Orr, the third-generation partner in the family business.

The custom farming business started in 1946 when Jon’s grandfather, Clayton Orr, and a friend, Leonard Schnell, started doing custom harvesting for nearby farmers using a one-row, pull-type chopper. Jon’s dad, Jim, was the second generation to do custom work along with working on the family farm. When Jon and his wife, Melissa, started working with his dad in 1997, they expanded the custom harvesting business beyond their local area.

Today, Orrson Custom Farming employs a crew of 16 people, including family, and has customers spread from Georgia to Michigan. Jon’s son, Justin, and daughter, Megan, joined the business as partners five years ago and his dad still helps out.

Their harvest season starts in Georgia in late February or early March and doesn’t end until around Thanksgiving when they finish fall harvests back in Georgia. The family continues to raise corn and soybeans on about 700 acres in the Apple Creek area as well.

Culture of safety

Creating a company culture that puts a priority on safety helps reduce accidents, protect people and limit damage to expensive equipment, Orr pointed out. It might not be possible to foresee and avoid every accident, but if a business has an ongoing pattern of problems, he suspects there is something wrong with the organization’s culture.

A pattern of accidents and insurance claims will also result in higher insurance premiums, he added. “If you’re a reckless driver you pay more for insurance. If you’re a reckless operator, you pay more for insurance.”

Orrson Custom Farming works to build safety consciousness with regular safety meetings for their crew. They get assistance with their safety program from their Nationwide agent, Paul Trent of Trent Insurance Group based in Orrville, Ohio.

“Nationwide has a lot of training materials available free of charge,” Trent explained. For instance, Orrson Custom Farming frequently uses their safety videos, which are available online.

The company’s biggest risk comes from moving trucks and equipment from farm to farm.

“We’re hauling wide loads on a regular basis,” he said, adding they might have 10 or 15 vehicles traveling together, so they alternate wide loads and narrow loads in a convoy. Crew members are constantly watching out for one another and communicating as they go, he said. “We’re a team going down the highway.”

Another way to reduce the risk of road accidents is checking the driving records of potential employees to avoid hiring people with a history of problems, noted Trent. That can also help keep insurance rates down.

Orrson family
Orrson family farming team

Vehicle tracking technology is helping them improve safety, too. It allows them to easily see where their trucks are and what speed they are traveling, Orr said. It also helps with setting travel routes. For example, say a certain road is on the shortest route from one point to another, but it has a bridge with a low load limit. They can set routes for the driver to avoid that road with full loads, but use that route with lighter, empty trucks. That improves their efficiency without risking damage to the bridge. “Bridges are expensive,” he noted.

Besides the dangers they face on the roads, operating their equipment brings its own hazards. A silage cutter, for instance, is designed to take big pieces and turn them into little pieces, Orr noted. That applies to whatever might be the machine’s path, he said. “Don’t be wandering around in my cornfield while I’m chopping.”

One of the safety rules they repeatedly emphasize with both crew members and customers is to never approach equipment if the operator does not know you’re there. “I don’t care what it is: if it’s a lawn mower in your backyard, if it’s your silage cutter in the field, or if it’s a bulldozer at an excavation site,” Orr said. “You’ve got to treat them all with respect.”

Avoiding fires and other accidents that damage machinery is also important to avoid expensive downtime and limit insurance claims. Accumulation of chaff can increase the risk of a fire, so Orrson Custom Farming doesn’t let it build up.

“My machines will go to a big air compressor and spend half an hour every night getting cleaned off so they’re ready to go for tomorrow,” he said.

Staying up-to-date

Orr reviews his insurance coverage with Trent every year to make sure he has the coverage he needs. While most farmers don’t offer custom farming services at the scale Orrson Custom Farming does, many do a little extra work on the side for neighbors.

Even if farmers are just helping someone else out with planting or harvest, or hauling some grain, they should make sure they know whose insurance covers what.

“If they are doing anything for others, that needs to be addressed from an insurance standpoint,” he said.

Don’t wait until there’s a problem to review coverage, Trent advised. “You don’t want to try to figure that out after the fact.”

Labor has always been an issue, mainly because we are a seasonal operation. So that's a challenge finding somebody who only wants to work three months out of a year, sometimes up to six months.
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