My toddler chattered loudly from the backseat as we lumbered down the highway. She and I talked about the weather and day’s plans as the ever-present “clicking” sound filled the surround of my old farm pickup. Our flashers kept time to the beat of the radio, as we followed the convoy down the highway.

In front of me was my husband of 18 years. He was in the tractor, pulling the hay rake. Dad was out front, in the tractor pulling the baler.

My hands clenched the wheel as the first vehicle came flying down the hill behind me. With a hope and a prayer, along with all our flashing lights, I hoped for grace and understanding.

You see, we are a farming and ranching family. Our fields are scattered here and there. This means we have to get to them by using old dirt roads, nice gravel roads, and the local highways.

Moving equipment is our least favorite job. It’s cumbersome. It’s time-consuming. And, it’s dangerous.

We move equipment in the daytime hours. We plan and strategize to make sure we do it at the most opportune times. We light up the vehicles and stay together.

Most of the time, people are courteous and understanding.

Sometimes, they are not.

As harvest season rolls in across the heartland, I want to offer a few gentle reminders.

When you see a tractor or combine moving up and down the road, I would ask you to remember that the people operating those machines are NOT moving them around to inconvenience you. Chances are they have done everything they can to avoid being on your busy roads. They would rather navigate shark-infested waters than lumber down the local highways. Since that isn’t always possible, they must share the road with you.

Those people in the cab are moms, dads, grandpas, grandmas, sons, daughters, and more.

If they are in those machines, they are not driving them for fun. They don’t cruise around because its their hobby.

Its their livelihood, and their destination is a piece of their identity.

It also contains a hopeful paycheck, as they gather up the fruits of all the work put into that field.

Tractors, combines, and other equipment are not made to go highway speed. Pushing them to 20 mph is about the fastest they can go. They have mirrors, but it’s hard to see who is behind. They take time to stop and turn, and it can be dangerous to drop a wheel off the shoulder as they try to move over for you.

All this adds up to a challenging task for the farmer and his or her family.

Are farmers perfect? Absolutely not.

But, they are piloting equipment that costs more than the average starter home in America. If they wreck, chances are they cannot replace that machine in time to get the season’s work done. They do not have time to waste, and undoubtedly are short enough on labor force that they don’t act foolish and jeopardize their safety or yours.

So, what can you do to help?

When you come up upon farm equipment going down the highway, first remember that the person occupying it is someone’s family. They are on a mission to help provide the food that is coming to your local grocery store, and more than likely extremely friendly and kind.

The best way to support that farmer would be to put on your flashers and join the convoy. I promise they are not going very far and are wanting to get off the highway as soon as safely possible so that they can go about their business and you can go about yours.

You can pass them if it is safe to do so. Please don’t glare, flip the bird, honk, or cut them off. I promise that it won’t make you feel any better, and it won’t make them feel better either.

The 2019 harvest season has come after being an extraordinarily challenging year across the country. Farmers and ranchers have kept the faith and did their best. As you see them in the fields, and on the roads over these next months, please smile and give them a friendly wave. I guarantee those actions will serve as the encouragement they need in their quest to bring in the bounty that feeds us all.

Leah Peterson

Leah Peterson is a native Nebraskan, living on the ranch her ancestors homesteaded in 1878. She and her husband Matt, met at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, and returned to the ranch in 2012 after working and living in Central Nebraska the past 12 years. They are parents to two daughters, Maggie and Lucy. Leah has an undergrad degree from UNL in Communication Studies, and a MA in Leadership from Bellevue University. Aside from her work at the ranch and opportunity to be a stay at home mom, she enjoys writing, photography, community involvement, spending time with friends and family and trying new recipes in her kitchen. Leah published her first children's book in 2011 titled "An Apple for Dapple" and enjoys traveling throughout the state to share her book with children and raise awareness about the importance Agriculture in Nebraska.