Archive of ‘AgrAbility’ category

Arthritis and Agriculture


Arthritis affects approximately one-third of all adult farm operators and is considered one of the leading causes of disability by customers of the USDA AgrAbility Project. With the average age of the American farmer now above 57, increasingly more farmers will find the tasks difficult to complete.  For example arthritis can cause significant impairments to one’s mobility, dexterity, capacity to lift heavy loads and emotional well-being due to unmanaged pain and other factors.

Arthritis is an umbrella term for more than 100 diseases that can affect the joint and surrounding tissue. Common forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, gout, and fibromyalgia.

Arthritis is considered one of the most disabling conditions a farmer can face and is the leading cause of disability of farmers in the Mid-Atlantic area.  Arthritis affects approximately one-third of all adult farm operators.  As work tasks become more difficult, many farmers and agricultural workers may not even associate the pain with arthritis.  Signs and symptoms of arthritis include the following:

  • Persistent pain
  • Stiffness, swelling, redness or heat in the joint
  • Difficulty in moving the joint
  • Possible fatigue, weight loss and nausea

Arthritis is especially detrimental to farmers and farm workers because of the nature of their work.  Many farm chores such as mounting tractors, baling hay, feeding livestock, harvesting vegetables, milking cows, operating equipment, cleaning out broiler houses require strength, dexterity, and mobility, which are lessened by the effects of arthritis.

According to medical professionals there are benefits of exercise for farmers with arthritis.  Exercise can help you manage arthritis pain and reduce the disability as well as increase energy levels, help with sleep and decrease depression and fatigue.  Exercise is also considered very important for healthy joints.  Moving your joints helps keeps them fully mobile and strengthens the surrounding muscles which help support the joints.

Since there is no known cure for arthritis, education and awareness of pain management techniques are considered the best practice for treating the disease.  This includes but is not limited to joint protection, work simplification and stress reduction.  A few solutions that can be implemented to help control joint stress and pain in farming include the following:

  • Wear quality, non-slip footwear
  • Use appropriate assistive aids such as automatic couplers, mobility devices, hydraulic lift table, shop hoists, powered cordless caulk guns and more
  • Adhere to proper posture when sitting for long periods of time in tractors
  • Use large muscle groups to complete a task.  For example use the legs instead of the back to lift.
  • Avoid gripping and grasping for long periods of time.
  • Simplify jobs and tasks
  • Pace yourself throughout the day

Arthritis is a debilitating disease, but it is manageable.  You will be able to farm productively and safely.  The Mid-Atlantic Agrability Project and the Arthritis Foundation are willing to help in any way that we can.  We promote technologies and given your tenacity and willingness to try, you can preserve your livelihood on the farm.

For more information on arthritis please visit Mid-Atlantic Agrability on the web at or visit the Arthritis Foundation at   You may also call Mid-Atlantic Agrability toll free at 1-877-204-FARM (3276) for a DVD titled Gaining Ground on Arthritis in the Agricultural Workplace and a brochure titled “Arthritis and Agriculture”.

AgrAbility to hold Mental Health First Aid Webinar



DATE:              FEBRUARY 27, 2013 at 2:00 p.m., EST

SPEAKER:         Lea Ann Browning-McNee, Mental Health Association of Maryland


Farming is a stressful occupation due to so many unknown variables that farmers face – weather, market prices, crop diseases, insects, workplace hazards, and the many personal challenges that confront each of us.

Consequently it is not surprising that farmers are often at risk to mental health challenges.  Studies have shown that farmers experience one of the highest rates of suicide of any industry and there is growing evidence that those involved in farming are at higher risk of developing mental health problems.  The suicide rate among farmers in several studies has been reported to be from 40% to 200% above the national average and during downturns in the farm economy, it is significantly greater.

This free webinar overviews Mental Health First Aid, a national program that helps laypersons identify and respond to people who are showing signs and symptoms of mental illness or are experiencing a crisis — much as CPR helps non-clinicians respond to medical emergencies.  Webinar participants will be introduced to the signs of mental stress and specifically red flag behaviors, how to support a person experiencing a mental health problem and what steps to take until professional treatment is received.  You’ll also learn how to earn your certification in the program and how to bring Mental Health First Aid to your community.

This course will benefit a variety of audiences, including Extension agents, Agrability staff and partners, case managers, farm leaders, service providers, health organizations, agriculture professionals, care givers, first responders and the general public.

Don’t miss this exceptional opportunity to learn from mental health professionals about identifying symptoms and risk factors and supporting farmers under stress.


Lea Ann Browning-McNee is the deputy director for the Mental Health Association of Maryland, the state’s oldest and largest mental health education and advocacy group. Prior to joining MHAMD, she was the outreach and development officer for the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, where she helped lead the launch of Mental Health First Aid- USA and created other new education and outreach programs. Lea Ann has more than 15 years of experience in public education and social marketing and currently serves as adjunct faculty at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Lea Ann received her Bachelors of Science and Masters Degree from Towson University.



Please go directly to and register for the event.  The webinar is free but registration is required.  Also registration is limited so please register as soon as possible.

Information an accessing the session will be sent to registrants by February 20.  If you have any questions, please contact Ron Jester, Mid-Atlantic Agrability at 302-856-7303 or email

AgrAbility focuses on respiratory health on farms

The respiratory health of farmers has been identified as one of the major health concerns facing the farming population.  Recent agrability surveys conducted by the Mid-Atlantic Agrability Project in New Jersey showed respiratory illnesses to be the 6th leading cause of disability and accounted for 5.2% of the total disabilities.  This compares to a survey on the Delmarva Peninsula in 2000 where respiratory illnesses accounted for 8% of all disabilities.  A study in Iowa showed the overall rate of respiratory illness among farmers to be 17% per year.  Chronic bronchitis and organic toxic dust syndrome (OTDS) were the most commonly reported conditions.

November is COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) Awareness Month and a great time to emphasize respiratory health on farms.  According to the American Lung Association (ALA) 24 million Americans have impaired lung function, which is commonly known as COPD which is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

COPD, also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis is a lung disease characterized by an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing and over time makes it difficult to breath.  Although COPD is not curable, it is preventable and can be treated and managed effectively.  ALA encourages people at risk to consult a physician about a spirometry test in order to diagnose the disease and begin treatment.

Despite smoking less, farmers have increased rates of chronic bronchitis.  Components of agricultural dusts are sufficiently irritating to the airways of the lung to cause mucus overproduction leading to repeated coughs with phlegm.  The dust is also a factor in asthma and allergic problems (runny nose, irritated eyes) which may occur with entry to poultry and other confinement housing.  Toxic fumes can also be encountered by people working in manure storage areas associated with animal confinement facilities.  A wide range of morbidity and mortality findings suggests that respiratory hazards may represent the greatest health hazard to famers.

The following strategies are important in addressing COPD and other respiratory diseases:

  • Know the respiratory hazards on your farm

Common respiratory hazards on farms include but are not limited to dusts, mold spores, gases such as ammonia in poultry operations, silo and manure gases; pesticides and fumes from welding and hot work

  • Know the signs and symptoms of COPD

Symptoms include constant coughing, shortness of breath when doing everyday activities, producing a lot of sputum, wheezing and feeling like you can’t breathe or take a deep breath

  • Get help

Consult a physician about a spirometry test in order to diagnose the disease as early as possible and begin treatment

  • Practice prevention

Use ventilation and PPE to protect yourself from the identified respiratory hazards.  In general respirators should have two straps, fit the face tightly, be appropriate for the respiratory hazard and approved by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).  For the proper respirator contact a local safety equipment supplier.

Replace the respirator if it becomes difficult to breathe through, dirty or loses it shape.  Always follow the manufacturer’s instruction relative to replacement, maintenance and storage.

How important is your health?  If you want to continue to breathe freely and promote respiratory health, protect yourself from respiratory hazards.  Remember that farm safety adds value to your business and you are the primary benefactor!


Safe Farming Possible for Those with Vision Problems

Vision impairment can be a significant barrier to completing farm tasks safely and efficiently, but many vision problems such as cataracts are treatable.  Farmers are an at-risk population for cataracts and the Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility Project reminds farmers that there are ways to prevent cataracts and accommodate low vision or loss of vision in everyday farming tasks.

Estimates indicate that one in seven people in the United States has a cataract.  That statistic applies to farmers as well as the general public.  A cataract is a clouding of the normal clear lens of the eye, preventing light from passing through to focus properly on the retina.  If you believe you have a cataract, see your family eye doctor for a complete examination.  Symptoms of a cataract may include increased nearsightedness; sensitivity to light and glare, especially while driving at night; blurred vision; distorted images in either eye; changes in the way you see colors, or colors seem faded; cloudy, filmy or fuzzy vision; double vision; frequent changes in your eyeglass prescription; changes in the color of the pupil; poor night vision.  Medical advances make it possible to successfully treat cataracts with surgery.  According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgical procedure in the United States and has more than a 90% success rate.

Farming with any vision impairment, including a cataract, can be challenging and dangerous.  If you find yourself trying to farm with impaired sight, the following tips from the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired can make farm chores a bit safer:

  • Hang wind chimes outside the house as an audible landmark.  “Tune” farm buildings by using different chimes to identify different buildings.
  • Suspend a tennis or playground ball from a piece of twine to mark when to stop a vehicle as you drive into a building.  The idea is that when the vehicle’s windshield bumps into the ball it’s time to stop.
  • Make sure work areas and walkways are well lighted and that light bulbs are checked and replaced regularly.
  • Color code tools like rakes, hoes and shovels by wrapping a wide band of colored duct or electrical tape around the handles.
  • Wrap rubber bands around handles to distinguish between regular and Phillips head screw drivers.  Do the same with metric wrenches in the tool box to distinguish them from standard wrenches.
  • Hang an old burlap feed bag about two feet away from a low-hanging beam or light fixture as a reminder to duck your head.  Burlap works best because it is more likely to catch on a cap than smoother materials.
  • Prevent eye damage by wearing sunglasses that block UVA/UVB rays and a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors to reduce exposing eyes to ultraviolet light.

For more information about farming with a disability, visit the Mid-Atlantic Agrability Web site at  or call 1-877-204-3276  to make an appointment with an AgrAbility Case Manager.


AgrAbility celebrates 20 years providing accessible support to the farming community

The National AgrAbility Program celebrates its 20th Anniversary this year in supporting farmers and their families with disabilities. USDA currently supports more than 25 states and regional projects including the Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility Project (MAAP) which supports farmers in Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey.

The vision of AgrAbility is to enable a high quality lifestyle for farmers and farm workers with disabilities. Through education and assistance, AgrAbility helps to eliminate obstacles that blocks success in production agriculture or agriculture-related occupations. AgrAbility helps farmers tackle the health challenges that sometimes come with farming like: arthritis, chronic back pain, respiratory problems, hearing and visual impairment and more serious challenges such as amputations, paralysis, head injuries, and other disabling conditions.

The Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility Project is a partnership of the land-grant institutions – the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, University of Maryland and Rutgers University working with non-profit disability partners – Easter Seals of Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Resources for Independence in Maryland, and Goodwill in New Jersey. The project targets farmers, watermen, loggers and poultry growers who want to continue making their livelihoods in agriculture despite a physical limitation or health condition.
AgrAbility offers the following services at no cost to farmers:

• Conducts on-site assessments to identify barriers
• Recommends appropriate assistive technologies (equipment, tools and devices), modified work practices, and other possible solutions to overcoming disability-related limitations  
• Provides educational and training opportunities and informational materials
• Refers customers to service providers for potential assistance (financial support and rehabilitative services, etc.) to meet the clients’ needs
• Offers expert advice on equipment modifications, home modifications and adaptive equipment
• Provides peer support opportunities

Since it began in 1991, AgrAbility has impacted the lives of thousands of farmers through direct services. The Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility Project is in its 14th year and it is estimated that we have serviced approximately 300 first-time farmers and their families and reached more than 10,000 with training, educational programs, and outreach activities.

The Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility Project provides solutions, removes barriers through assistive technology, is about no-limit thinking and preserves a way of life. Please visit our website at or contact Ron Jester at the Sussex County Extension Office (302)856-2585, Ext 584 to learn more about the program.