High corn - high hazard
By DAVID J. COEHRS
Civitas News Service
It can become an annoying game for motorists during planting season: inching perilously forward in their vehicles at rural intersections because cornfields obstruct their view of approaching traffic.
Local officials say the problem is preventable, and in cases of uncooperative property owners they have the authority to enforce a solution.
Most farmers stay planted on their property, said Sgt. Tracy Zuver of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office. When a deputy notices corn edging into the road right of way or obstructing traffic, they will notify the farmer.
“Ninety-nine percent of the farmers are good about it,” he said. “We get a few calls about corn, and we address them immediately.”
In some cases, motorists need to inch up a little at the stop sign to see “so long as they’re not out too far,” Zuver added.
Fulton County Prosecutor Scott Haselman said he does not know of a criminal law provision that applies to corn grown on private property outside the road right-of-way.
However, Fulton County Engineer Frank Onweller said his office has jurisdiction over county roads. When corn stalks appear to obstruct motorists’ views, the engineer will contact the farmer or property owner to resolve the situation.
“We have an obligation to maintain safe sight distance to the traveling public,” he said.
In most cases, farmers and property owners are agreeable to correcting the problem, Onweller said. Sometimes, they cut the corn down to the level of the ear so drivers’ views are improved. In other cases, it is mowed down.
If the property owner refuses, Onweller’s office has the legal right to remove the corn in question. “We encourage them not to plant in the right-of-way. The Farm Bureau is also cooperative. I don’t think we have a lot of problem in getting the situation resolved,” he said.
Roy Norman, organizational director at the Four County Farm Bureau in Pettisville, said he cannot defend any farmer who plants to the corner of their property in a manner that interferes with visibility at an intersection.
“The Farm Bureau has been a longtime advocate of farmers voluntary leaving strips at those dangerous intersections,” he said. “There are some serious violators that go even into the road.”
The bureau’s newsletter routinely discourages farmers from the practice, Norman said, but “we do often see resistance. Some people do resist these recommendations to be proactive.”
He said farmers can avoid the situation by setting their planters so they don’t plant the last couple rows along the ditch bank. They also can kill the corn in those rows once it is up or refrain entirely from planting corn.
“At the bare minimum, once the corn pollinates around mid-July the farmers can cut the corn just above the ear,” Norman said. “It would continue to grow, but it helps tremendously with the visibility.”
He said farmers can allay concern that weeds would grow on the field’s outer edges if they don’t plant there by contacting the county engineer about keeping those areas mowed.
When motorists pull up to many county intersections during corn season the right-of-way is blocked by the plants, forcing the drivers to pull further ahead to see, Norman said.
“That’s not right, and we cannot support that type of obstruction,” he said.
“There needs to be more awareness by the farmer that we’ve got responsibility that drivers can safely see when they get to that intersection.
“We’re not talking acres here. We’re talking a few rows of corn making a life or death difference. Farmers just don’t think about it.”