AgrAbility Virginia helps farmers continue to do their jobs

farm-droughtAfter suffering a carotid aneurysm in 1999 that made it difficult for him to walk, Dinwiddie County farmer Alvin Blaha needed a solution.

In 2003, he learned about a program called AgrAbility that helps farmers with disabilities continue to work. He was the second person in Virginia to receive help from AgrAbility Virginia, one of 24 state-level affiliates of the National AgrAbility Project.

Blaha was unable to pull himself up onto his farm equipment. AgrAbility Virginia helped find resources to retrofit angled steps on his combine so he could get on and off safely.

“I was using a ladder to angle against equipment and walk up, but then I had nowhere to put the ladder and had trouble getting down from the equipment,” he said. The manufacturer did not make any other steps that would resolve the problem.

Without the angled steps, “I wouldn’t be able to farm,” Blaha said. “I’m up and down on my equipment all the time, and I just couldn’t do it. AgrAbility helped me so I could continue to farm.”

In addition to the steps on his combine, AgrAbility Virginia added steps to all of Blaha’s tractors. In 2015, the organization reached out to the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services for help installing a lift on Blaha’s cotton picker. The lift runs off the cotton picker’s battery and features a safety catch to prevent it from free-falling should a cable break.

“DARS has been very helpful in providing funding for several AgrAbility Virginia projects,” said Joe Young, AgrAbility Virginia’s service coordinator. “This lift makes it a lot safer and easier for Alvin to be able to continue doing work on his farm.”

The lift also helped save Blaha’s life.

On Oct. 10, 2015, the cotton picker caught fire. “Without the lift, I don’t know how I would have escaped the equipment quickly during the fire,” Blaha said.

For more information about AgrAbility Virginia, visit agrability.ext.vt.edu.

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