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In Michigan alone, there are 52,194 farms with 215,000 employees, according to the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture. For every 1000 adult farm workers, there are approximately nine injuries, causing unemployment and a shortage of workers. Though there will be struggles, many of these people desire to continue working in farming. The USDA funds a program that supplies assistance to help them get back to the work they enjoy.

    AgrAbility is a program that provides a variety of solutions for the different difficulties that come with a disability. These ideas would be applied to agricultural work with an emphasis on adjustments for the individual with limited physical activity levels. Over 1900 farm employees could receive benefits from the Michigan program with thousands more being helped around the United States.

    Because an injury can affect a multitude of areas in a person’s life, the services offered cover a myriad of needs. Obviously, one of the biggest obstacles to deal with is the financial challenges that come with injuries or conditions that restrict and limit their abilities. The need to make money becomes a priority, so the organization steps in to assist by evaluating the different aspects of the farm and the new reality for the operator/employee.

    The evaluation begins with a visit by an agricultural engineer who determines how the operation works,  what equipment is needed, and how the individual can do the work with their new limitations. Notes are taken to compile into a summary report for the farmer that reflects the farm tasks with barriers revealed. The engineer and the farmer discuss and research possible solutions to assist in the work. They will come up with ideas for the AgrAbility staff to find funding for. The group has access to money from various organizations and fundraising efforts.

    One example is the Alpha Gamma Rho, a Michigan State University agriculture fraternity which has provided $15,000 for those in need. The young men earned the money through a preview livestock show at the university. Another effort came from The Andersons of Michigan when they sponsored a golf outing and donated the money to AgrAbility.

    After acquiring the funds to install the technology and/or adaptive equipment, the AgrAbility staff will provide assistance in the initial set up and training, along with following up for several months to determine that the solutions helped the person out.

    Many disabilities qualify for the services offered by the organization such as spinal cord injury, chronic back pain, arthritis, stroke, respiratory impairment, joint injury, amputation, visual or hearing impairment, head injury, or a disability due to aging or illness. Services provided for the individual include education and training, resource materials, assistive technology database, toll-free helpline, information and referral, business planning, assistance for caregivers, help for veterans, and public awareness activities.

    If interested in the program, more information is available online by looking up the program for your respective state to see if there is an opportunity for assistance.

    In addition to the groups mentioned earlier, the Michigan AgrAbility program is supported by Easter Seals Michigan, MSU Extension, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Life Essentials, and the Tri-Town 4-H Club.

    The National AgrAbility Project is assisted by Breaking New Ground Resource Center of Purdue University, Goodwill of the Finger Lakes, Arthritis Foundation in the Heartland Region, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Colorado State University, and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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