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Let's find a way to allow students to drive tractors

April 28, 2012

With spring, tractors return to the fields and with them arrives a fading conflict of contrasting lifestyles — the slow, rural pace of our agricultural heritage up against a rat race of harried people who are so busy that a few minutes spent behind a piece of farm machinery can send them around the bend.

We say the conflict is fading because the rats are winning. Agriculture is becoming a large-scale industry in sprawling complexes, while the storied family farm is in danger of extinction.

Perhaps no better metaphor of this transition exists than the story playing out just to our north in Pennsylvania, where police have instructed James Buchanan High School to abandon its annual Drive Your Tractor to School Day because it is a violation of modern traffic law.

Earlier this month, Sen. Richard Alloway II said he will file legislation to allow the tradition to continue, although even the senator did not seem optimistic of success.

Pennsylvania state law essentially says that a piece of farm equipment is only permitted on a highway if it is on official, farm-related business. A teen driving his tractor to school to celebrate agriculture and the family farm does not qualify.

We accept that Drive Your Tractor days are probably over, but we don’t have to like it.

To begin with, any youngster who is interested in agriculture is to be valued, and any venture that raises awareness of farming among young people is a worthy pursuit. Indeed, we can almost make the argument that raising awareness of farming is a form of official, farm-related business, just as advertising is an official part of retail.

Second, we find it hard to believe that some special deal could not be worked out, just as wagon trains have been permitted on Maryland highways once a year to celebrate the National Road. Could there not be a designated route, perhaps staffed by fire police or volunteers that would allow the tractors safe passage?

Canceling Drive Your Tractor to School Day seems like something that would happen in a major metropolitan school district; it hardly seems even imaginable in rural Pennsylvania. Understandably, it would only take one tragedy involving a fast-moving automobile and a puttering old Farmall for accusations to fly and fingers to be pointed.

But we encourage Alloway to keep up the fight. Somehow, some way, there has to be a safe avenue for farm kids to showcase agriculture before their peers, and remind us of the continuing value of our farms and of the people past, present and future who have put food on the tables of all Americans, even the ones who are always in such a big hurry.

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