BACKGROUND: There have been no studies of the prevalence, characteristics, and factors associated with the history of prior farm injury among active farmers. No studies have had adequate numbers of black farmers to evaluate farm owner/farm worker and black/white similarities and differences. METHODS: Our sample is based upon surveys administered to 1,310 active male farmers in nine rural counties in Alabama (5) and Mississippi (4). The farmers are white owner/operators (53.6%), black owner/operators (26.6%), and black workers (19.8%). RESULTS: Overall, 23.4% of the farmers had a prior injury. Prior injury was more frequent among white owner/operators (29.1%), compared with black workers (18.9%), and black owner/operators (15.2%). In multiple logistic regression analyses, post-high school education and tiredness when farming were independently associated with prior injury in black owner/operators. In white owner/operators, age > or = 60 years, post-high school education, full-time farming, tractor use, more pieces of machinery, hurry when farming, and alcohol consumption were associated with prior injury. In black workers, only being very careful was associated with prior injury. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that prevention efforts focusing on alcohol consumption, fatigue, and hurry when farming might reduce injuries; however, only a follow-up study of this sample can determine whether these associations reflect causal factors, recall, or selection bias.