The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently announced an initial investment of more than $1.2 million for a total investment of more than $5 million over four years for the USDA’s AgrAbility program.
The program helps America’s farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers with disabilities remain working and successful.
“The AgrAbility program has provided comprehensive support to producers with disabilities and their families to ensure they have access to the training, technologies, and networks necessary to continue working in their chosen profession of agriculture,” said NIFA Director Dr. Carrie Castille, in a statement. “To support the specialized needs of the AgrAbility community, the program builds service capacity at the state, regional and national levels through technical assistance, education and networking.”
The five projects funded will come from Purdue University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University and University of Tennessee Extension.
The federal AgrAbility program has been around for 30 years, said Paul Jones with the National program. In addition, there are more than 20 state projects funded. The program has changed since its inception 30 years ago, he said.
“When it started out, it was almost solely focused on physical disabilities and assistive technology,” he said. “That’s evolved somewhat over the years because of the recognition that there are issues that are not necessarily visible disabilities. For example, we’re seeing more veterans coming back these days that are interested in participating in agriculture. So a lot of them might have PTSD or a traumatic brain injury or something like that.”
There’s also a greater focus on serving the underserved populations, including Native American farmers, Black farmers, Latino farmers, veteran farmers, and others.
Projects can take place anywhere in the United States. The program is also looking at how they might be able to help farmers and agricultural workers with disabilities in developing countries. In the federal assistive technology database, there are more than 1,700 products available to help someone with a disability work in agriculture, Jones said.
“Some of the things in there are very high tech: track wheelchairs and the lifts to get people up into the tractors and combines, but there are a lot of low-tech things that can be fabricated locally,” he said. “And so we want to make sure that we’re making that easily accessible to anybody, but especially people who live in areas or countries where there may not be access to some of the higher tech devices that other people might have access to.”
The AgraAbility Project in Kansas works a lot with veteran farmers and women farmers as well.
“I think it’s important that everybody has the opportunity to continue in whatever field that they would like,” said Tawnie Larson, project coordinator for the Kansas AgraAbility Project. “And I think farming and ranching is the salt of the earth, it’s people that care about the land, they care about livestock, and crops … but really, they are producing our food, our clothing, and feeding the U.S. and the world.”