Every grower digs in the soil, so the chance of hitting a buried utility line can be all too real. Hit lines can injure workers, cost production time while utility companies evaluate and repair the damage and potentially result in repair costs that the grower must reimburse.
The biggest risk to a farmer: losing the farm, according to Whitney Price of the Pipeline Ag Safety Alliance (PASA). “If a farmer hits a liquids line, that farm will be out of production for years, and the land may not be restored for a long time.”
Growers use a wide range of heavy equipment, including backhoes, bulldozers and mowers, and all have the potential to damage buried pipelines or utilities, according to Gene McAvoy, vice president of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents.
“The problem is often compounded in tree fruits by the fact that these are long-term crops — a grove or orchard can be in place for many years, in some cases 50 or more,” he said. “Given such long time frames, soil can erode, exposing once-buried lines, and people can forget about lines or the exact location of lines buried beneath the grove.” In addition, orchard ownership may change, so next-generation growers or new growers may have no knowledge about locations of buried utilities.
Since orchard activities often include annual tree replacements, which involves “digging a substantial hole that may be deep enough to damage a utility or pipeline,” as well as entire block replacement that requires major movement of earth, McAvoy emphasizes that tree-fruit growers need to be especially cognizant of underground utilities.