A broken leg, a case of arthritis or an amputated limb can be tragic for anyone. But they can be career-ending problems for farmers who rely on their physical prowess to do their jobs.
"Farming is a labor-intensive business, and farmers rely on their bodies to do nearly everything – whether it's climbing in and out of a tractor or milking cows," explains Kelly Ewalt, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension educator. "We strive to find ways to help keep them working in the occupation they love, even when their bodies are convinced that they can't."
Ewalt manages the Michigan AgrAbility program for MSU Extension. Thanks to a partnership with Easter Seals Michigan, Michigan Farm Bureau and United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan, and funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, AgrAbility provides confidential services to farmers with ailments ranging from severe allergies to amputations. Since it was founded eight years ago, the statewide program has helped more than 240 farmers.
"Sometimes it's as simple as adding a retractable step to a tractor to helping an aging farmer climb on and off the equipment more easily," Ewalt says. "In some cases, it means doing a wholesale change of the farm layout to help an injured farmer who uses a wheelchair move around the farm more easily."
Assessments and advice are free, and the AgrAbility staff does their best to find simple, low-cost solutions.
"There are low-interest loans that can help offset the cost of equipment modifications," Ewalt says.
Farming is dangerous
According to the U.S. Safety Council, nearly 55 of every 1,000 farm workers will suffer from a work-related injury. The National Ag Statistic Service's most current single-year data for Michigan reports that 503 farm workers suffered a farm-related injury.
While many producers recover completely from these injuries, a sizeable number are left with permanent disabilities. The National Safety Council estimates that as many as 4.5% of all farm workers experience permanently disabling injuries while working in production agriculture. Unfortunately, those physical limitations can lead to work and financial limitations as well. That's where Michigan AgrAbility can lend a helping hand.
For more information about Michigan AgrAbility, call (800) 956-4106.