Youth safety is the focus at Tractor Safety Camps

The annual camps offer a variety of safety topics including livestock handling.

Matilda Lawson tractor.JPG
Matilda Lawson is in the tractor’s driver seat during the NDSU Extension Tractor Safety Camp held on the campus of North Dakota State University and Titan Machinery in Moorhead, Moorhead, Minnesota. Angie Johnson, NDSU Extension farm and ranch safety coordinator, sits in the instructional seat, teaching Matilda how to drive the tractor and prepare her to drive the tractor obstacle course in reverse.
Contributed / NDSU Extension
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JAMESTOWN — Working in agriculture can be deadly for young people.

According to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, a child dies about every three days in an agriculture-related accident. Another 33 are injured. Most of the deaths are related to tractors and ATVs/UTVs, the agency said.

The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety is part of the National Farm Medicine Center and is funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the only center dedicated to childhood agricultural injury prevention, according to its website,

The center says agriculture had the leading number of occupational fatalities for youth age 17 and younger from 2011-2020.

In North Dakota, there are efforts to keep young people working in agriculture safe. Two Tractor Safety Camps are taught annually through North Dakota State University Extension, says Angie Johnson, farm and ranch safety coordinator for NDSU Extension.


While tractor driving is a large — and popular — part of the camps, it wasn’t the only subject taught. Other safety topics included ATVs, learning to stop bleeding in an emergency, livestock handling, electrical and power takeoff safety, mental health and stress, Johnson said.

“We have a very, very comprehensive tractor camping program that is extremely unique in the Upper Midwest,” she said.

About 30 kids ranging in age from 13-15 took the camps this year, which were offered at NDSU in Fargo and at Washburn, North Dakota. Johnson said they usually hold the camps right after Memorial Day before kids start getting into the field. Each camp was held over three days and two nights and the $175 cost included lodging and meals.

One of this year’s participants was Matilda Lawson, 13, who lives on the family farm in Milnor, North Dakota.

“I took it just so I could help out more around the farm and be safer with all equipment,” she said.

Johnson said federal law requires that kids 14 or 15 years old who plan to work for a farmer and rancher other than their own family farm or ranch must receive a tractor certification. That certification, which is required by the Hazardous Occupations Order in Agriculture, can only be provided by extension agents or agricultural education teachers in schools, she said. But not all attendees will be working for other farmers, they will be working on their own farms, she said.

“Their favorite part (at the camp) is driving tractors and so we set up an obstacle course for them to drive through,” she said. “And for some of these kids, it’s their first time ever driving a tractor.”

Topics also include participants learning how to operate hydraulics, power takeoff safety and electrical safety. Offering more than tractor certification at the camps helps prepare kids for all types of issues related to working on the farm, Johnson said.


“That’s what I love about our camp is that it really embraces the entire farm and ranch operation,” she said. “Yes, tractor driving is a huge component, a lot of these kids, that’s what they do in the summertime. If they’re cutting hay or raking hay or some are evening baling hay, whatever task they’re doing, it involves operating a tractor. But there’s so many other components to working on a farm too. … we really embrace kind of a holistic approach, trying to cover all of the different aspects.”

Participants have to pass the driving portion of the certification program and a written test with questions on all of the material covered in the camp.

Stop the Bleed program

One part of the camp was the Stop the Bleed program with Sanford Health.

“One of the biggest reasons why individuals end up passing away from a farm-related injury is because they end up bleeding out en route to get to emergency services, to a hospital,” Johnson said.

Stop the Bleed focuses on how to use a tourniquet to help stop an injured person from bleeding out.

“And so each one of our participants received a tourniquet kit that they are going to keep in their farm pickups, they’re going to keep in their tractors or the equipment they use the most and now they’re prepared,” Johnson said. “If they get hurt … anybody on the farm gets hurt, they now are certified and know how to use a tourniquet to be ready to help stop the bleed if help can’t get there fast enough.”

Matilda said she felt confident after training on the Stop the Bleed program that she could help someone in an emergency.

“I think that we learned a lot about how to deal with an emergency and I think that was really important and would help with if something did happen,” she said. “You learned how to deal with it.”


Matilda Lawson machinery.JPG
From left, NDSU Extension agent Kyle Aasand instructs Matilda Lawson of Pembina County and Mya Orn of Cass County on conducting a pre-operational inspection, identification of the tractor’s controls and have hearing protection ready before they begin to drive the open cab tractor on the obstacle course during the NDSU Extension Tractor Safety Camp held at the campus of NDSU and Titan Machinery in Moorhead, Minnesota.<br/><br/><br/><br/>
Contributed / NDSU Extension

ATV training

Johnson noted a lot of kids are driving four-wheelers. The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety says youth younger than 16 have 12 times the risk of fatal or nonfatal ATV injuries compared to adults.

The Tractor Safety Camp includes actual hands-on experience with ATVs through North Dakota Parks and Recreation.

“So let’s actually teach them how to use their body when they’re driving because that’s what gets a lot of people in trouble is, they’re not shifting their weight with the four-wheeler when they’re making turns or when they’re going over a log or something like that,” she said.

North Dakota Parks and Recreation brings in ATVs and the kids get training that includes going through an obstacle course and they also get helmets to take home.

Livestock handling

Camp participants worked with the NDSU Department of Animal Sciences, which brought in sheep for them to work with.

“A lot of times what will happen, we will have teenagers or kids be asked to come help work livestock and some of these individuals have never been around livestock in their entire life,” Johnson said.

The participants learn about the “flight zone,” which is the personal space of an animal, Johnson said.

“If you enter the animal’s flight zone, it will move away from you until it feels safe,” she said. “If you step out of the animal’s flight zone it will usually stop moving away because it does not feel threatened or nervous because you are no longer in its “personal space.”

Stress and mental health

Johnson said the kids also had a unit that focused on farm stress and mental health, perhaps in a way they didn’t expect.

“We actually took the kids bowling and that was very intentional,” she said. “The reason why we did it is we need sometimes to take a break from the farm.”

She said the kids who take part in the camps are kids who love farming or ranching and want to work there.

“However, we need to be able to help people cope and de-stress and step away and also have a network,” she said.

That’s why the participants stay overnight at the camp, to help form relationships with other kids on farms and ranches, Johnson said.

“We want them to become friends, we want them to be able to rely on each other,” she said, and be able to help someone in need.

Matilda said she had fun bowling.

“They explained to us how enjoying something that you like to do and relaxing helps with the stress of farming and that kind of thing,” she said. “Having a job, sometimes you need to stop and do something you want.”

Parent component

Johnson said this year, they added a parent leadership component to the Tractor Safety Camps, asking the parents to come and do a leadership activity with their child.

The kids on the first day of camp learned the 11 hand signals in agriculture, Johnson said.

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Particiants in the Tractor Safety Camp are taught the 11 signals used in agriculture. Signals can help people communicate about their work on the farm when there is loud equipment operating, reducing the risk of injury.
Contributed / NDSU Extension

“Farming relies on communication, whether that’s verbal, whether that’s body language, whether that’s using hand signals,” she said. “We have to rely on it because we can’t always hear each other because of the loud equipment so that’s when hand signals come in play.”

During the parent leadership program, the kids taught their parents about using the 11 hand signals, she said. They played a game where the child communicated with the parent using hand signals on how to walk through an obstacle course.

“And a lot of those parents, they had no idea what their child was trying to tell them,” Johnson said. The game was an eye opener, she said, because a parent communicating with hand signals may not be understood by kids. And that’s when accidents can happen, she said.

“That parent program was a really good way to help both sides of the aisle understand communication and making sure that they both understand what they’re asking of each other,” Johnson said.

Matilda said the topics at the camp were all new for her except the program on handling livestock. Her family raises cattle for their own consumption and doesn’t sell it, she said. She liked handling the sheep at the camp.

“I liked that we were able to actually get some hands-on experience,” she said of the camp overall. “Instead of just learning how things worked we actually got to work with them so that was a lot of fun. I learned how to drive an ATV there and so that was my first time doing that. And I thought that was really cool that we were able to do that.”

She said she felt better equipped to help on the farm after attending the camp and would recommend it to other kids.

“It definitely made me feel like if someone asked me to do something, I could do it then,” she said. “Like, I wouldn’t be completely clueless about it. I may need a little bit of help with it, but I would know the basics.”

Kathy Steiner has been the editor of The Jamestown Sun since 1995. She graduated from Valley City State College with a bachelor's degree in English and studied mass communications at North Dakota State University, Fargo. She reports on business, government and community topics in the Jamestown area. Reach her at 701-952-8449 or
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