Special Report: Fatal Farming

Special Report: Fatal Farming
Published: Oct. 31, 2019 at 6:25 PM CDT
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INDIANA (WFIE) - A new report released by the Purdue Extension shows farming to be one of Indiana's most dangerous occupations.

In 2018 Indiana saw 34 farm related deaths.

We spoke with one southern Indiana farmer who had a brush with the dangers of farming, and he says bringing awareness to the issue is one of the best ways to keep both farmers and people in the community safe.

Jim Droege is a Posey County native, and he’s farmed for nearly 50 years.

“I started farming a little bit when I was in high school and continued afterwards and was able to expand the farm some after my tour with Uncle Sam, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” said Jim.

Jim says farming runs in his blood and that of his family, but in March 2016, Jim and his brother Paul experienced what was nearly a tragic accident.

"You can’t get out, and it happened in a matter of seconds,” said Jim.

Jim says he was working at the grain bin on their family farm when he got stuck. It was something that prompted Jim and his brother Paul to share their story in a video for farmers across the country.

“We started unloading the bin and had about 150 bushels come out of it or something like that,” said Jim.

Droege went into the bin when he realized something was wrong. He says in a matter of seconds everything changed.

Thankfully, because Jims brother and a friend were there, Paul was saved by local firefighters who used a rescue tube .

“It simply was a matter of me not taking a moment to stop and think. We all get engaged in what we’re doing and forget sometimes that this hazardous business,” said Jim.

Jim knows he was lucky. The same cannot be said for the 34 other Indiana farmers who died in farming related incidents in 2018. One was Jim’s brother, Paul.

“2018. Paul Droege, gets into a grain bin, does not come out. Still thinking maybe, heart attack while in there or heat exhaustion, it was a day in the 90′s in June. So Posey County gets another heart,” said Purdue Cooperative Extension Director Hans Schmitz.

Since 1980, more than 1,000 people have died across Indiana and here in Southern Indiana, more than 60 deaths on local farms. A map lays out each life lost in the form of hearts but there’s so much more behind each heart on that map.

Hans Schmitz says the Droege brothers story is hard to talk about, but it’s these stories that are bringing awareness to a continual issue in the farming community.

“It’s a family destroyed for a time," said Schmitz. "It’s a shockwave to a community. It’s a farm gone. In some cases, it’s a farm that looks radically different.”

On that map with those hearts, you can see Posey County has had nine deaths since the 80′s. Vanderburgh had seven. There have been 12 in Gibson, 11 in Spencer, and 23 deaths happening Dubois County.

“If you just look at the last decade, there’s been a slight uptick in the last three years or so,” said Schmitz.

Jim says a lot has changed in the farming industry in the last 20-30 years, but even with advancements in technology, accidents still happen.

“Bins are a problem, have been in the past and continue to be, and again it’s just a matter of stop and recognizing and thinking, thinking, thinking. It’s hard to do, but it needs to be done,” said Jim.

According to that 2018 farm fatality report, The estimated fatality rate of 23.8 per 100,000 Indiana farm workers in 2018 compares to an estimated national death rate of 3.4 per 100,000 for workers in all industries.

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