As part of his duties as an Extension assistant, Gary Tordrup regularly gives seminars on farm safety. It's a responsibility he takes to heart.

Tordrup, who covers Nebraska's Clay and Webster counties, lost his father-in-law in a farm accident.

"He was crushed under a haystack mover," recalls Tordrup. "A cable jammed, and he crawled underneath the machine to fix it. While he was doing that, the bed tipped back and the haystack fell on him.

"My father-in-law was one of the most safety-conscious farmers I ever met. Why he thought it was okay to crawl under the stack mover, I'll never know. I think he was probably in a hurry to move one more stack before supper."

Agriculture is one of America's deadliest professions. The National Safety Council reports that 710 persons died and 150,000 persons were permanently disabled by injuries sustained on U.S. farms in 1997.

While farm accidents can happen to anyone, Tordrup cautions that forage production is an especially risky profession.

"A farmer who's baling hay is working with a lot more moving parts versus one who's planting or cultivating," says Tordrup. "Plus, a lot of producers are baling at night; they're putting in a lot of hours, and fatigue comes into play."

Dave Morgan, University of Nebraska Extension safety engineer, says his database of fatal farm accidents contains many farmers killed while harvesting or handling forages. For example:

* A farmer used a fence stretcher to tighten a chain on his round baler. The chain came loose and hit him on the head.

* One grower got off his tractor to make an adjustment on his bale stacker and left the tractor running. His dog, riding in the cab, inadvertently hit a control knob and the stacker's end gate fell on him.

* While attempting to move a round bale using a front-end loader, a farmer lifted the loader too high. The bale rolled back and hit him.

"Round bales are handy, but you need to use the right equipment to handle them," says Morgan. "If a farmer's using a front-end loader to move round bales, it needs to have a bale clamp on it. Also, the producer needs to carry the bale as low as possible."

While a list of safety guidelines for farmers could be a mile long, Tordrup and Morgan highlight the following precautions to help prevent accidents:

* Keep PTO shields in place. Outfit tractors with rollover protective structures.

* Keep all forage machinery properly maintained.

* Turn off all machinery before working on it.

* Take breaks frequently.

* Keep in regular radio contact with your spouse, boss or employees.

One final note: Safety does save lives, limbs - and money. Farmers with good safety records pay lower insurance and worker's compensation premiums, says Morgan.