Commentary: Farmers need extra protection in the sun

Issue Date: May 21, 2008
Cyndie Sirekis

To many people, the approaching summer season means time off from school, carefully planned family vacations and sampling the freshest fruits and vegetables. On the down side, summer also brings insect bites, bee stings and sunburns. It's a season when farmers and ranchers need to take extra precautions to protect themselves from the perils of too much sun.

Several studies over the years have indicated a higher incidence of skin cancer fatalities for farmers. Summer sunburns and overexposure to UVA and UVB rays from the sun, even without visible burning, are summertime hazards that can have long-lasting effects. Frequent and prolonged sun exposure over many years is the primary cause of skin cancer. Joining farmers as groups at risk are people with fair complexions, redheads, blondes and people with blue or grey eyes.

Nonmelanoma skin cancers are the most common type diagnosed in the U.S. In 2008, more than 1 million cases will be diagnosed, and 1,000 people will die from this form of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The stats are grimmer for melanomas—an estimated 62,480 people will be diagnosed with this form in 2008. More than half of them will die from the disease, although not all in the first year after diagnosis.

Convincing farmers to take steps to reduce their risk of skin cancer by wearing sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts on a regular basis during the dog days of summer remains a challenge. Fortunately, extensive research has resulted in vastly improved sun protection products.

If you're not yet a regular sunscreen user, new innovations may help convince you to jump on the bandwagon. Clear, non-greasy, oil-free, fast drying and quick-spray are among the newest offerings on the shelf. Although initially developed with athletes in mind, sport, sweat-proof and waterproof formulas cut down on moisture running into anyone's eyes. Given the strenuous summer work undertaken by farmers, they would benefit from using these improved products.

Just remember, although sunscreen products have vastly improved, the old rule of thumb about sun protection factor (SPF) still applies—the higher the number, the greater the protection. Even if your summer work is conducted in what you might believe to be a protected tractor cab, it never hurts to take extra precautions against the dangers of the summer sun.

(Cyndie Sirekis is a director of news services at the American Farm Bureau Federation. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.