ARLINGTON – There was a time when farmers who were injured or had a physical health problem were forced to look for another job. Some farmers and their families may not view a health problem as a handicap, even though the day-to-day tasks of a food business may become increasingly difficult to perform.
Since 1991, however, thanks to the work of AgrAbility of Wisconsin, there have been opportunities to continue in agriculture. Those who work with this program say that the severity of a disability is not a factor in qualifying for the program.
AgrAbility of Wisconsin is a cooperative partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Extension and Easterseals Wisconsin. Last week, members of AgrAbility’s Advisory Board learned about the services provided over the past year.
Brian Luck, Co-Director of AgrAbility of Wisconsin, is affiliated with the Engineering Department at UW-Madison. He explains that Easter Seals takes care of FARM services for the program and UW-Madison takes care of grant writing. Grants come from a variety of sources including USDA / NIFA and private foundations.
“For the first time in our thirty-year history, AgrAbility has failed to meet its grant targets due to the COVID-19 pandemic which limited the number of farm visits we could visit,” said Amanda Harguth , awareness specialist at AgrAbility.
Yet in the period from September 1, 2020 to August 31, 2021, 391 farmers with disabilities were served. Most of the clients served were employed full time as owner / operator of the farm. The three most frequently served farms were dairy, livestock and grain farms. The main disabilities were joint and back injuries, arthritis, amputations and orthopedic injuries.
The Easterseas Wisconsin FARM program helps farmers return to farming after an accident or crippling illness. Rehabilitation specialists visit the farm and, along with the farmer and his family, examine the entire farm, assess buildings, land and equipment while noting each task that needs to be done.
MORE: AgrAbility’s mission is to keep farmers on the farm.
The specialist draws up an individualized plan recommending specific equipment as well as modifications to existing equipment and to the site. Modifications can range from adding a set of additional tractor stages to a complete overhaul of a milking parlor.
The plan can then be submitted to the Vocational Rehabilitation Division for funding, for eligible farmers.
Several farmers who have benefited from the program over the years have attended the annual meeting and continue to volunteer on their farms for tours and events that help AgrAbility tell their story.
A strong supporter of the program is Arlington grain grower Alan Kaltenberg. He worked with a rehabilitation specialist who suggested changes and improvements to make his farming operation safer and easier.
In January, he was appointed a director of the board of directors of Easterseas Wisconsin. The statewide board of directors consists of 18 people who dedicate their time to support Wisconsin’s Easterseals programs that help people with disabilities across the state.
Kaltenberg lost his left arm in a flour milling accident when he was only 4 years old.
He says cultivating with one arm was no problem when he was younger, but running his 300-acre grain farm in recent years has been more difficult, especially when it comes to climbing ladders and bring objects down from a storage area in the store. Even getting into the tractor became more difficult and driving a skid steer loader was a challenge.
Over the years he has adapted many tools himself, but he eventually turned to AgrAbility for help and says he is still a farmer today thanks to that help and has not. had to receive disability benefits.
Chilton dairy farmer Adam Faust is another beneficiary of the program who continues to serve on AgrAbility’s Advisory Board. He says he wouldn’t be able to continue operating his Chilton dairy farm without this adaptive technology.
“This reduces the need to lift and transport the automatic unloading units over the gutter and between cows,” he says.
He became an active spokesperson for the organization and organized AgrAbility events on his farm.
Faust was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that literally means “split spine” and gives birth to a baby with an open spine and exposed spinal tissue. Despite this challenge, he was able to cultivate, but a farm accident in 2003 resulted in an infection which ultimately led to the amputation of a leg.
Several other farmers who have benefited from the program also continue to help support the program to help others like them in the state.
The services provided by the organization are confidential, but many of those helped are keen to let others know about the help available.
Many farmers have testified in state hearings about the importance of keeping farmers working by providing financial assistance for the purchase of modified or specialized equipment. Many have attended workshops nationwide or have helped local manufacturers design specialized equipment that will help farmers keep working.
When DVR stopped providing financial support for the equipment needed to keep farmers working, AgrAbility advisers worried that fewer farmers would seek help. Changes over the past year have resulted in improved cooperation between DVR and AgrAbility, but farmers like Faust say there is still a need to educate DVR advisers on agriculture logistics as most among them do not have agricultural experience or understand how unique agriculture is compared to others. trades.
AgrAbility has virtually hosted several specialist workshops over the past year to help DVR advisors understand the specialist needs of farmers. AgrAbility is now planning a workshop in April at the Marshfield research station that aims to educate DVR representatives across the state about specialized equipment and the needs of farmers with disabilities.
At this event, DVR representatives will see modified skid steer loaders, specialized equipment for attaching rail cars without getting out of the tractor, milking equipment and other things that keep farmers on the job.
Luck says that “DVR can be a big advocate, but we have to continue to work with them so that they understand the importance of this modified equipment. “
He says the purpose of this workshop is to give DVR advisers hands-on experience so that they have a better understanding of agriculture.
Dick Straub, Co-Director of AgrAbility, is also Chairman of the Wisconsin Rehabilitation Council. He says that when this council meets, he also asks them to report to each quarterly meeting.
He says, “The environment with the DVR has improved dramatically, but we are concerned that if farmers hear that they are unwilling to help, they will not seek help from our program. We know DVR is ready to help, but we need to help them understand agriculture better.
Paul Leverance, who was previously the director of AgrAbility of Wisconsin and now president and CEO of Easter Seals of Wisconsin, praised the organization for continuing to work with DVR representatives.
AgrAbility of Wisconsin is also planning the national training workshop which was postponed from last year due to COVID-19 restrictions. The 2022 event takes place March 14-17 in Madison and features professionals and consumers from across the country participating in plenary sessions, task forces, tours, networks and other special events.
To learn more about AgrAbility of Wisconsin or to visit their specialized equipment exchange site, visit the AgrAbility website at www.agrability.bse.wisc.edu.