There’s no denying the physical demands of farming, and as growers get older, chronic problems like arthritis, back injuries, or hearing loss can make it harder for them to stay in the field. That’s when the Toolbox Assistive Technology Database offers some nifty solutions for troublesome tasks.

Developed by the National AgrAbility Project with USDA funding, the online searchable database provides nearly a thousand products or suggested modifications for problems as simple as turning a wing nut or as complex as fitting lifts onto farm equipment for paraplegics.

“One of our priorities is to network with equipment manufacturers and bring them some of the issues so they have an idea what their farmer customers are facing,” explains Steve Swain, AgrAbility assistive technology specialist. 

“Customers are getting older but not retiring. It’s not unusual that I get calls from 70-year-old or 75-year-old farmers looking for information on managing a problem,” he says.

Solutions in the database come from a variety of sources. Some are simple, homemade products farmers have developed to overcome physical barriers, but a growing number are available off the shelf.

“If we’re looking at the most common impairments, like back injuries, there are auto-hitch devices so farmers don’t have to get in and out of the cab so much, additional mirrors to see behind without having to twist, and small cameras to check the combine hopper from a monitor in the cab,” Swain explains. 

AgrAbility staff scout farm shows and farm publications for new problem-solving inventions, then evaluate their safety and effectiveness before adding them to the database. Part of the process involves classifying each product based on the physical problems it can address. The result is a database that can be searched by type of equipment, such as “shops and shop tools,” or by physical challenge, such as “hearing impairments” or “arthritis.”

Database listings include a description of the product and the limitations it addresses, the product source, contact information and estimated cost.

For high-end equipment such as lifts, AgrAbility can often help farmers locate financial assistance, but many products in the database are modestly priced, everyday tools that would make a good stocking stuffer. 

The National AgrAbility Project has 25 state-level organizations. To check out the Toolbox Assistive Technology Database, go to www.agrability.org/toolbox/index.cfm. State/Regional AgrAbility project contacts can be found at www.agrability.org or call 800/825-4264.

Add-On Tractor Steps are wide, nonskid steps with a handrail, making it easier and safer to enter and exit the tractor cab. They are simple to install (no holes to drill) and are available for a variety of John Deere and Case IH models. Price: $150 to $200. The manufacturer also offers window steps to make window washing more convenient. Contact K & M Manufacturing, Dept. FIN, Box 409, Renville, MN 56284, 800/328-1752, www.tractorseats.com.

For those with strength limitations, the Quick Bucket Opener is a 21-inch-long, single-piece aluminum tool with no sharp edges that provides the leverage to easily open large plastic pails without slitting or damaging the lids. Price: $34.50. Contact Gempler’s, Dept. FIN, 1125 Deming Way, Madison, WI 53717, 800/382-8473, www.gemplers.com

The Faucet/Valve Turner is a simple plastic device that fits over most common faucets or valves, including those on water heaters, well pumps, and waterline shutoffs to provide extra leverage. Price: $10. Contact Aids for Arthritis, Dept. FIN, 35 Wakefield Dr., Medford, NJ 08055, 800/654-0707, www.aidsforarthritis.com.

An Overhead Creeper reduces back strain and makes it easier to work on large trucks and tractors in awkward and out-of-reach positions. The creeper base can be extended or retracted to adjust for the space available and the need for stability. The creeper platform can be raised from 40 to 60 in. and adjusted to five different working angles with a manually operated hydraulic cylinder. The creeper also can serve as a free-standing mobile ladder. Plans to build the creeper are $30. Contact DSLA Co., Dept. FIN, 11714 457th Ave., Sisseton, SD 57262, 605/698-7492.