Agriculture can be as much a lifestyle as it is an occupation. Farmers often don’t retire — they just keep on working. That’s not always easy, though, as back problems, knee problems and any number of other disabilities can get in the way.
AgrAbility of Utah, a partnership between the Utah State University Cooperative Extension and nonprofit Allies with Families funded through the USDA, is here to help with exactly that issue.
Randall Bagley joined AgrAbility of Utah as its program coordinator in March. His office is on the USU campus, and while he says he’s still learning the ropes, he’s found the job very fulfilling.
“It really helps some great people,” Bagley said. “Farmers and ranchers, they’re kind of the lifeblood of our country here. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be eating. They work hard and they have a tough life, a lot of them.”
According to Bagley, AgrAbility can help current farmers and ranchers who have some type of chronic illness or disabling condition. Those criteria cover a lot of disabilities farmers may have, Bagley said.
“Stuff like vision or hearing, back problems, knee and joint problems, we can cover that,” Bagley said. “People with heart conditions, seizures, cancer, all of that would be included in this.”
AgrAbility can help by going to farms and ranches to assess where they might be able to help by modifying equipment.
They can connect ag workers to Vocational Rehab or the Utah Center for Assistive Technology, who can provide certain funding or specialized equipment solutions. They can coordinate service projects with groups like FFA. All of AgrAbility’s services are strictly confidential, Bagley said.
The average age of farmers, ranchers and ag managers in the U.S. has been going up for decades. The average is now over 58 years, according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. While that’s a concerning statistic on its own when considering the future of U.S. ag production, AgrAbility is focused on how to help farmers who want to keep working despite disabilities.
The issues AgrAbility’s clients deal with are by no means all age-related. Agriculture is a risky industry, with about 100 ag workers suffering an injury that takes them off the job at least temporarily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition to current farmers and ranchers, AgrAbility can also assist family members, regardless of whether the family member is planning on pursuing a career in agriculture.
“If they (ag workers) have a child with an injury … we can work with them also,” Bagley said.
AgrAbility client George Allen, 52 of Kingston, has lived almost all his life with back pain. He fell and took a log across his back when he was 12.
“It really hurt, but all the people I know talk about their back injuries and how much it hurts and how difficult it is, and I’m like, ‘OK, I guess that’s just life,’” Allen said. “And so I tried to deal with it.”
He couldn’t count how many times he got into a position where he couldn’t physically move and he had to call his wife or his father to carry him back to the house. When one day he’d injured his back worse than he ever had before, he went to the doctor and was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease.
Allen found out about AgrAbility through an old pamphlet he found in a used car he’d bought. He figured they probably weren’t around anymore, but he called and found them eager to help.
“The whole time I’ve been working with them, they’re really nice, really pleasant,” Allen said. “They come out to the farm and look around and see what you need, ask what you need. And they help you in areas that can keep you farming longer.”
It’s not easy for farmers to get help when they need it. They often don’t have a lot of cash flow, Allen said, and even finding people qualified to help can be hard.
AgrAbility didn’t guess about Allen’s needs. They came to the farm, spent time examining his equipment, then took the time to find solutions that worked for him.
For example, AgrAbility has found side-by-side UTVs very helpful for many farmers with disabilities, but Allen hadn’t ever found one he could use comfortably. Working with AgrAbility, he went to dealerships and looked at several models. Nothing clicked until an AgrAbility worker suggested the Bobcat Toolcat.
“It’s just such a handy piece of equipment,” Allen said. “It takes the place of a lot of backbreaking work. It has a quick-attach front end so I can put buckets or post hole diggers or Ditch Witches or whatever on the front.”
Allen said his brother, who is 13 years older, called the Toolcat “cute” the first time he saw it, but after Allen had him test it out with a task in the field, he was sold.
“We use it every day,” Allen said. “And it’s a piece of equipment that I wouldn’t have been able to buy for myself because of the price of it, but it has really, really, really helped.”
Joe Decker, of Panguitch, has joint problems with his neck, back and most recently his knees. He served two tours with the Navy in Vietnam and 27 years in the National Guard, and he attributes the bulk of his disability to military injuries.
Even though farming and ranching involves a lot of heavy labor and Decker finds even bending and stooping difficult, it’s what he loves to do.
“I’ve been agriculture most of my life, and it seems to be the only thing that I really want to do,” Decker said. “It gets me out of the house and it makes me get off the couch. And these guys seem to really want to help me stay that way.”
It’s just himself and his wife working on the ranch, Decker said, and it’s good to know there’s a resource like AgrAbility out there for people if they truly need it.
“Sometimes there’s just some things you can do by yourself and some things you can’t because you can’t move around really easy,” Decker said. “There’s just some things you have to let go because you can’t do them. And these guys (AgrAbility) seem to want to help you get to where you can do it.”
For more information about AgrAbility of Utah, call (435)797-0350 or (877)225-1860, or visit www.agrability.usu.edu.
Tremonton City has approved spending up to $10,000 to install benches and interpretive signs at the Holmgren Nature Preserve and Trail.
The new trail along the Malad River in the heart of the city opened earlier this year to rave reviews, and city officials have been working out the details of installing signs and benches to maximize the benefit of a state matching grant without dipping too deep into city coffers.
At its last meeting on Aug. 6, the Tremonton City Council approved spending for benches and signs along the trail. A contract with the provider of the signs has yet to be finalized, but the council decided on spending limit of $10,000 in city funding for the improvements.
Tremonton City Manager Shawn Warnke said it should be plenty to cover the cost of seven or eight interpretive signs along the trail, which was built on a conservation easement.
Warnke said the signs will educate people who visit the trail about the unique ecology of the river bottom area, as well as its pioneer history as a corridor for the historic Bidwell-Bartleson Trail.
“There are some unique features that are worth preserving, and the signs will highlight those,” he said.
In planning for the preserve and trail, the city secured a matching grant in which the state would provide up to $90,000 to build the trail and pay for related amenities, including the building of the trail as well as the associated signs, benches and other amenities. The deadline to receive those matching funds is coming up at the end of the September, so there was some urgency to reach a deal before the deadline, as the signs will take about a month to manufacture.
Warnke said the preserve and trail has been a true community effort, with local residents, businesses and other organizations providing donations in the form of money and volunteer work.
“With the additional donations, we’ve seen that a lot of people value that it’s a worthy project,” he said. “Every bit helps, and this is very much a community project in terms of people participating.”
Warnke said the city’s own public works department will handle the installation, which will further reduce the cost to the city. Overall, he said construction of the trail has remained well under budget. Some drainage problems at the north end of the trail and along the eastern stretched still need to be fixed, but he said the city will be able to address those issues without exceeding the budget.
Councilmember Lyle Holmgren, whose family donated the land for the park, said there is a lot of potential historical value in the land in addition to the wildlife habitat it provides, and the signs will help people learn about that history.
Holmgren said he remembers playing down in the river bottom as a child, and finding an old wagon axle and other parts that he believes are part of an original wagon party that came through in the 1800s.
“I year or two ago I went down there to try to find it and it’s gone,” he said. “I really do believe that wagon axle was part of this whole (historical) thing. I think it was an important thoroughfare, and those kinds of things are worth telling to scout troops, 4-H groups, the general public, just knowing that kind of thing.”