MARSHFIELD — Innovations in farm equipment are allowing farmers to keep the life they love, even after a life-threatening injury.
Hortonville farmer Keith Posselt said his life changed Jan. 31, 1997. While changing a silo door, he slipped and fell 35 feet down a silo chute. Posselt said he never lost consciousness but laid at the bottom of the silo until a neighbor found him.
“Before I left the hospital, I decided I wanted to continue farming,” he said.
Posselt shared his story March 16 at the AgrAbility of Wisconsin Summit at Marshfield Clinic. The farmer became a client of the organization, which helped him overcome challenges getting to and around the farm.
Posselt said one obstacle has been finding equipment that will work for him and his farm. One of his primary tools is a Gator equipped with hand controls that he uses to get around the farm. Though AgrAbility, Posselt connected with Life Essentials, an Indiana-based company that mounts lifts and hand controls in nearly any machine, from tractors to motor homes.
Farm buildings needed to be modified to eliminate steps and steep ramps. A feed conveyor system allows Posselt to easily feed his cattle. Posselt also uses quick-hitches to connect implements without leaving the tractor cab, which he noted could be used by anyone to prevent injuries and strain from lifting and climbing in and out of tractor cabs.
“It’s kind of a slick unit,” he said, showing a video of how the hitches work.
Brian Luck, an assistant professor and Extension specialist in the Biological Systems Engineering Department at UW-Madison, said he was first introduced to AgrAbility when he came to Wisconsin in January 2014. With a background in precision agriculture, Luck was asked to be involved with AgrAbility and found it to be a good fit.
“Isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing?” he asked. “It just made all kinds of sense to me.”
Luck said there are many newer tools available to help farmers overcome physical challenges. Front and rear camera systems, which are becoming more common in newer vehicles, can help farmers see better and reduce strain from constantly turning. Drive-through gates can also make it simple to exit a livestock pen without leaving the tractor cab.
Calf carts have made it easier for people to move newborns, but Luck said he has challenged his senior students to redesign the cart and make it better. Luck said skid-steers, notorious for being difficult to climb into, are getting a makeover with a single boom design and side door.
“You don’t have to crawl over the bucket to get into a skid-steer,” he said.
Some improvements are relatively simple. An extended shovel handle or lower tractor steps can make it easier for those with injuries and joint problems.
Luck is currently exploring the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, in farming. Luck said aerial imagery may make tasks from checking a herd of cattle to scanning fences easier for those with mobility challenges. Sensors added to the units could help farmers decide when fertilizer or water is needed for crops. Luck said operating a UAV isn’t much different than playing a video game.
“With a little bit of technology knowledge, anybody could use one of these things,” he said.
Precision agriculture using GPS technology could also help farmers reduce the physical strain of their work. Luck said auto-steer devices can reduce operator fatigue, and robotics may reduce the number of operators needed for a task.
Posselt said he is grateful for the help AgrAbility has given him to continue the career he began at the age of 13.
“One of the things I like about AgrAbility is it focuses on ability despite the challenges we face,” he said.
by KAREN ECKERT
Original article published in The Country Today, http://www.thecountrytoday.com/farm/article_a7344ae6-d172-11e4-a804-9389a97b8e6a.html