AgrAbility: 30 Years of Impact – Introduction and Sponsors

  • The Vision of AgrAbility
  • Let’s Start with the Future
  • Building on the Past: A Timeline
  • Letter of Congratulations from USDA
  • Some Things Have Changed in 30 Years, Others Haven’t
  • Sponsors

The vision of AgrAbility is to enhance quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities.

It is estimated that at least 634,000 people in the U.S. farm/ranch population have a disability. For more than 30 years, the USDA AgrAbility Program has reached out to empower these individuals to keep doing what they love. AgrAbility’s efforts have helped enhance quality of life not only for individuals but also for families and communities.


Let’s start with the future…

Will there continue to be a need for AgrAbility?

  • Our agricultural population continues to age, with the average age of farmers currently at 57.5 years. With aging comes a variety of potential impairments, such as mobility, hearing, joint, and vision problems.
  • Even with safety advances, agriculture remains one of the most dangerous industries and will likely remain so.
  • The pandemic showed how essential – and vulnerable – our food supply chain can be. We can’t take any of our agricultural producers for granted.
  • Epidemics of obesity and diabetes show no signs of waning.
  • Arthritis continues to be the most common disabling condition in the U.S., and farmers show a high rate of rheumatic conditions.
  • Military veterans, many with physical and psychological challenges, are turning to agriculture as a means of employment and healing.
  • The continuum of agriculture continues to expand with new frontiers in urban enterprises, local producers, and beginning farmers of all backgrounds and abilities.
  • Innovative technologies are making agriculture accessible to more and more people. Artificial intelligence, GPS, auto-steer, apps, and drones are just a few advances benefitting farmers with disabilities.

It’s hard to envision a time when AgrAbility will not be needed.


Building on the Past: A Timeline

1950s: Purdue organizes “one-arm corn picker clubs” for injured farmers

1966: Vermont Rural and Farm Family Vocational Rehabilitation Program established

1979: Breaking New Ground Outreach Program begins at Purdue University

1986: Farm Family Rehabilitation Management (FaRM) Program founded by Easterseals Iowa

Late 1980s: Easterseals, Breaking New Ground, and other groups advocate for federal AgrAbility program

1990: “Assistive Technology Program for Farmers with Disabilities” (AgrAbility) included in the Farm Bill

1991: USDA launches 8 state and regional AgrAbility projects. Purdue University and Easterseals lead the National AgrAbility Project

1998: USDA funds 23 state and regional AgrAbility projects

2000: National AgrAbility Project moves to University of Wisconsin-Madison with Easterseals as partner

2008: National AgrAbility: Project returns to Purdue with Goodwill National AgrAbility Project Industries as partner

2022: USDA funds 21 state and regional AgrAbility projects


Letter of Congratulations from USDA

As a national science liaison with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at USDA, I have had the privilege of working with AgrAbility since it was first initiated more than 30 years ago. Since that time, the program has supported more than 13,600 farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers.

In that course of time I’ve met many people with disabilities who want to continue to work or begin working in agriculture.  I have always been inspired and impressed by their determination to do something that can be very difficult and challenging for anyone: succeeding in agriculture.  AgrAbility has been there to help improve quality of life for these dedicated farmers and ranchers.

I would like to express my appreciation for all of those people who have provided support to people with disabilities who want to continue to work in agriculture – to those who work with the Extension system and to our nonprofit organizations and all the other collaborators who have helped make AgrAbility a success. I truly appreciate all of the impacts and outcomes that those organizations have accomplished to help support people working in agriculture and to truly make a difference in their lives.

Congratulations on more than 30 years of service and success.

Bradley Rein, P.E.
National Science Liaison
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
USDA


Some Things Have Changed in 30 Years, Others Haven’t

AgrAbility has grown from 8 “demonstration projects” in 1991 to 21 funded projects today. Over the years, the program has developed an impressive body of collective knowledge to assist our clientele and has consistently embarked on new and more effective strategies of conducting evidence-based outreach.

During the past three decades, the assistive technologies available to agricultural workers have become more advanced and widespread. Agriculture itself has evolved to include new enterprise options, such as urban farms and a multitude of niche markets. Our clientele has become more diverse to include greater numbers of veterans, women, and those involved in agriculture from the African American, Native American, and Latino communities. Greater emphasis is also now placed on things like farm stress and mental/behavioral health issues.

What hasn’t changed? Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers are still determined to persevere in their lifestyles, no matter the obstacles. They maintain an independent spirit and resist being labeled as “disabled.” They use creativity and innovation to get the job done.

And AgrAbility hasn’t changed its commitment to provide essential services to help them overcome barriers to success.

This publication outlines some of the ways AgrAbility works to fulfill its mission

and some of the stories of people whose lives have changed because of the program’s services.

During AgrAbility’s existence, a total of 41 states have been covered by a USDA-funded AgrAbility project. However, due to funding limitations, there are only 21 currently funded state AgrAbility projects plus the National AgrAbility Project whose purpose is to support the state projects and provide limited services to agricultural workers in states without AgrAbility projects.


Sponsors

Over the decades, many corporations, foundations, and other entities have provided significant support in helping AgrAbility fulfill its mission, including:

  • USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
  • Farm Credit
  • CHS Foundation
  • NEC Foundation
  • Monsanto
  • Farmer Veteran Coalition
  • Deere and Company
  • ButcherBox

This publication was made possible by USDA/NIFA Special Project 2021-41590-34813.
National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture