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MADISON – Tractor rollovers are the leading cause of death on farms, but that could change in the near future if Senate Bill 35 (SB 35) continues to gain traction.

Authored by lawmakers Senators Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point and Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie and Representatives Bob Kulp, R-Stratford and Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc, the bill would provide state funding for Wisconsin’s farm tractor Rollover Protection Structure (ROPS) Rebate Program.

This program helps farmers retrofit their tractors with a structure that keeps the driver safe in the event of a rollover.

“Unanimous, bi-partisan support demonstrates that farm safety is an issue that everyone can get behind,” said Testin. “I look forward to this bill continuing through the legislative process.”

Kurtz, an organic farmer who survived a tractor rollover recognizes first-hand the importance of SB 35.

“In rural Wisconsin, we know our neighbors, and we don’t want to see them become statistics,” said Kurtz. “I want other farmers to have the same outcome that I had when I had my accident.”

The Wisconsin ROPS Rebate Program was founded by the National Farm Medicine Center (NFMC), part of Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, in 2012.

"The NFMC began fundraising for the program in 2012 and we retrofitted our first tractor in 2013. Since then we have retrofitted more than 250 Wisconsin tractors," said Scott Heiberger, communications manager for the NFMC. "Participating farmers arrange to have the retrofit done at a dealer of their choice and then submit the receipts."

Heiberger says that all of the rebate money so far has been provided by generous central Wisconsin donors, mostly through the annual Auction of Champions gala in Marshfield, which benefits the work of the National Farm Medicine Center.

"To expect central Wisconsin donors to carry the load for the entire state, however, is not sustainable," Heiberger said. "It’s always been our hope that the state would eventually be able to allocate some funding if we could show that the program is viable."

Additional funds from the state would allow the NFMC to more fully promote the program to more areas of the state, and put on more rollbars.

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"We feel there is more demand out there. But as it is, we pull back on publicizing the program each year when our rebate budget begins running low," he said. We’d hate for farmers to have to sit on a waiting list with no rebate money available."

Farm Center scientist Barbara Marlenga, Ph.D., director of the Wisconsin ROPS Rebate Program applauds the generosity of Central Wisconsin, adding that funding has provided ROPS retrofits in more than 30 Wisconsin counties.

"However, additional funding is needed, or we’ll probably have to shut the program down at a time when so many farmers are struggling financially with low commodity prices,” Marlenga said.

Heiberger says the NFMC has worked closely with the offices of Rep. Kulp and Sen.Testin throughout this process. Two NFMC team members, Marlenga and Melissa Ploeckelman, testified during senate ag committee hearings some weeks ago along with Pittsville Fire Chief Jerry Minor and Darlington farmer/fire chief Josh Goebel as to the importance of ROPS.

According to the National Coalition for Agricultural Safety and Health, tractor accidents have been identified as the leading cause of deaths and disabling injuries on farms. Tractor rollovers account for half of the tractor fatalities while runovers account for 25 percent.

Most of these deaths could be prevented if tractors were equipped with ROPS and seat belts. However, only about one-third of tractors on U.S. farms are equipped with such protective structures, according to National Ag Safety Database.

A ROPS, when used with a seatbelt, is 99 percent effective in preventing injury or death in the event of an overturn. All Wisconsin farmers are eligible. To register, call 1-877-ROPS-R4U (1-877-767-7748), or go to www.ropsr4u.com and click on “Wisconsin.” The program reimburses up to 70 percent (maximum of $865) toward the total cost of purchasing, shipping and installing individual ROPS.

“Workplace safety is very important – no matter what form that workplace takes,” added Rep. Kulp. “This bill enhances safety and represents a big step forward for Wisconsin farmers.”

The bill now has the opportunity to advance to a vote of the full Senate. A companion bill, Assembly Bill 31, was introduced in the Assembly and is also working its way through the legislative process.

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