Over the past several decades, U.S. agriculture has been transformed by improvements in production efficiency. Among these are labor-saving machines and equipment that allow farmers to produce more food and farm products per person-hour than ever before.
Regardless of all the machines, tools and gadgets, farming still is a physically demanding occupation. Even people operating large, highly mechanized farms occasionally must resort to hand tools such as shovels, pry bars and chain saws for essential farm tasks.
The operation of high-tech machinery also requires a lot of effort over long hours. Loss of attention or concentration because of fatigue can result in mistakes or accidents involving a loss of time and money or, at worst, serious injury or death.
The growth of the small, direct-marketing local farm sector includes people of all ages who are new to agriculture. Situations can emerge early in the new business that challenge the physical abilities of the farmer: “Can I really do this by myself?” “How can this task be accomplished without so much physical strain?”
In many cases, older people or people with disabilities want to start new, small-scale farm operations and could benefit from advice or assistance from knowledgeable sources to cope with their limitations.
Michigan AgrAbility can help farmers with physical limitations. In partnership with Easter Seals of Michigan and Michigan State University, Michigan AgrAbility provides help to farmers with chronic health conditions such as back pain or strength problems, hearing or vision loss, amputations and paralysis, stroke, head injury, or PTSD and fatigue. Its goal is to help the farmer continue working and generating an adequate income to provide for his or her family.
To help new and potential farmers gain insight into what physical challenges they might face, Michigan State University Extension is offering a webinar Jan. 16, called “Getting started with the physical labor of farming,” as part of the 2019 Beginning Farmer Webinar Series.
Ned Stoller, agricultural engineer with the Easter Seals Michigan AgrAbility Program, will discuss the physical workload of starting a farm — hours per day, days per year, lifting, bending, crawling, carrying, digging, reaching, etc.
Stoller will give a realistic look at the effort required for various farm enterprises and at tools to help people work more efficiently, especially if they are not in perfect health. There is a small registration fee for the webinar, and a discount is offered if all 12 webinars are selected. If the registration fee is an obstacle to participation, scholarship opportunities may be available by contacting Jim Isleib, MSU Extension educator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To register or for information, visit MSU Extension’s 2019 Beginning Farmer Webinar Series.