New technologies reduce physical strain for farmers

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.

Pos­selt shat­tered his T7 ver­te­brae and learned he would never walk again.

“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