Penn State receives AgrAbility grant

Jeff Austin
Catie Noyes met Jeff Austin under the AgrAbility tent at Farm Science Review in 2017, where he was sharing how he ended up paralyzed from the waist down after having stage 4 cancer in 2013. Since then, he has worked with AgrAbility and Life Essentials to slowly regain his independence, including getting this Action Track Chair in the fall of 2016, that allows him to work on equipment. (Catie Noyes photo)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences has been awarded funding from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture for programs to help prevent fatalities and serious injuries associated with farming and to provide assistance to individuals farming with disabilities.

A $180,000 USDA-NIFA grant will support AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians, which is a partnership between Penn State Extension and UCP of Central Pennsylvania, a nonprofit specializing in services for people of all ages with a disability.

Penn State also will receive funding as a subcontractor under a $100,000 grant awarded to the University of Nebraska for the Safety in Agriculture for Youth (SAY) project, which is aimed at keeping the next generation of farmers safe.


AgrAbility provides direct services to farmers and farm families with a disability or long-term health condition who wish to continue in agricultural production.

Since its inception at Penn State in 1995, the program has provided direct services to more than 750 agricultural producers in the state by conducting on-farm assessments, providing farmers with disabilities with individualized recommendations about farm accessibility, and identifying assistive technology devices and providers.

Thousands more are the recipients of indirect services, such as referrals and farm safety education.

Abbie Spackman is the program’s case coordinator and receives referrals from numerous partners, including the state Department of Agriculture, extension offices, agribusinesses, medical professionals, nonprofit organizations, the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and veterans’ groups.

“The goal is to keep farmers farming and to help others who want to start farming, such as veterans, by helping them to overcome barriers,” Spackman said.

“It’s rewarding to see how assistive technology can help our clients maintain their farms.”

Farm assistance

Among the many clients whose lives have been changed is Philip Dean, a dairy farmer from Lawrence County.

A few years ago, lung, knee and foot problems threatened to end his 35-year career in the milking and cheese-production business, but then he heard about AgrAbility.

Spackman, along with an occupational therapist and farm coordinator from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, toured the family’s farm, learned about Dean’s physical limitations, and recommended the installation of automatic takeoffs in the milking parlor and a utility vehicle to make chores more manageable.

“AgrAbility has made a world of difference,” Dean said. “Because of them, I am able to keep farming. I am thankful.”

Because grant funding is designated for operational needs, AgrAbility helps clients connect with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation and other outside funding sources for equipment and modification needs.

Youth safety

Protecting youth working in agriculture is the central focus of the Safety in Agriculture for Youth, a NIFA-funded program that began in 2014.

Thanks to this program, more than 18,000 youth from 46 states, most under 18 years of age, have enrolled in the CareerSafe-OSHA 10-hour General Industry (Agriculture) online training — close to 9,000 youth have completed it.

Michael Pate, Nationwide Insurance Associate Professor of Agricultural Safety and Health, and Linda Fetzer, extension associate, coordinate Penn State Extension’s participation in the SAY program.


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