Program Helps Farmers with Challenges

AgrAbility of Wisconsin and Easter Seals Wisconsin partner to provide farmers with the resources they need to continue working on their farms in the aftermath of a disabling farm injury or with a chronic health condition. Farmers apply to AgrAbility for help, and if approved, receive expert advice and financial assistance to secure standard and specialized equipment they need to safely continue doing their farm work.

Tractor lift

By working with AgrAbility of Wisconsin, a farmer who cannot climb into a tractor cab can potentially access a lift similar to this.

Brian Luck, who joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s department of biological systems engineering last year, is a co-director of AgrAbility Wisconsin. Luck is originally from an 800-acre crop and beef operation in Kentucky. At UW-Madison, he focuses on machinery systems and precision agriculture, along with adaptive technology to help farmers with disabilities.

The program has helped Outagamie County beef producer Keith Posselt, who fell from a silo in 1997 and farms in a wheelchair. Luck said AgrAbility/Easter Seals helped Posselt secure a John Deere Gator for traveling to and farming his farmstead, to drive around his pastures, as well as hand controls for his tractor, a lift to help him be able to sit in the tractor cab, a remodeled entrance to his barn, a feed conveyor system, quick hitches for hooking up implements and more.

Luck said other adaptations that might help farmers with challenges include a front and rear camera system in the tractor cab, drive-through gates, a special calf cart on wheels so calves no longer need to be carried, extra steps on the tractor, a skidsteer with a side-opening door and extensions on shovel handles.

Unmanned aerial vehicles — or drones – might come in handy for farmers who can’t easily travel around their farms. Not only can drones be used to check crops, but also livestock in the pasture. They have the ability to hover behind a tractor and implement, allowing a farmer who can’t climb out of the cab to more easily oversee machinery set-up. Advancements like auto-steer, precision guidance and driver-less robotic equipment all hold potential for farmers with disabilities, Luck added.

Since 1991, AgrAbility of Wisconsin – part of a larger national initiative – has been intervening to help thousands of farmers living with limitations. The strong partnership with Easter Seals Wisconsin and UW-Extension has been key in making Wisconsin’s AgrAbility project reportedly one of the most successful in the country.

AgrAbility serves farmers and farm-family members limited by not just physical disabilities but cognitive or illness-related challenges as well, including but not limited to amputation, arthritis, back impairment, deafness/hearing impairment, developmental issues like cerebral palsy or autism, diseases like cancer or heart disease, respiratory illnesses, spinal-cord injuries, stroke, traumatic brain injury, severe visual impairment, and mental or behavioral health problems.

AgAbility offers the following services at no cost to farmers who qualify:

On-site assessments to identify barriers to completing farm chores and tasks in the home, offering solutions

Educational and training opportunities

Referrals to other service providers for potential assistance, i.e. financial, rehabilitative and educational

Peer support by connecting farmers with other farmers who have already successfully accommodated disabilities.

An important distinction is that AgrAbility does not provide direct funding or equipment, but works with Wisconsin’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and other funding sources, like Easter Seals

Wisconsin, to help farmers obtain needed technologies and equipment modifications.

The program also is a clearinghouse for a used-equipment exchange. Farmers who no longer utilize equipment they have received through the program put it on the Agricultural Equipment Exchange website where others farmers might more easily access it. The farmers set the selling price. Visit http://farm.eastersealswisconsin.com to access the website. Whether selling, buying or giving equipment, farmers can post to this website free of charge. Call 800-422-2324 with questions.

There’s also an online toolbox, which is a technology database with nearly 1,000 products to help farmers, gardeners and anyone else limited by physical impairments. It includes product descriptions, supplier information, photos and videos. Visit www.agrability.org for more information.

AgrAbility of Wisconsin offers a Plowing Ahead newsletter, which features farmers who have worked with the program and notices of upcoming Neighbor-to-Neighbor events hosted by program participants on their farms throughout the year. Visit agrability.bse.wisc.edu or contact the program at 608-262-9336 or aaw@mailplus.wisc.edu for more information.

Easter Seals Wisconsin’s FARM Program can be contacted at 800-422-2324, or visit www.eastersealswisconsin.com for more information.

By JANE FYKSEN, Agri-View

Original article can be found at http://www.agriview.com/news/regional/programs-help-farmers-with-challenges/article_4154c4b1-9919-52de-b97c-2a5020c4ebde.html