AgriAbility helps farmers stay on the farm

Wisconsin State Farmer
Quadriplegia wasn't able to keep third generation farmer Eric Beckman down.

Three generations of the Beckman family have farmed the fields of northeastern Nebraska. However, that legacy almost ended for Eric Beckman in May 2007 when he rolled his pickup truck. The trauma he sustained included a high level spinal cord injury that left him quadriplegic, with paralysis from the chest down.

However, it was not long before AgrAbility entered the picture. After being transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver, Eric was visited by a Colorado AgrAbility staff member who explained the program and related services. When he returned to Nebraska for additional rehabilitation in August 2007, Nebraska AgrAbility began working with Eric.

Eric is among farmers featured in "25 Years, 25 Stories", an initiative that highlights 25 of the thousands of stories of how AgrAbility has improved the lives of people around the country and even in other nations.

Bill Field, professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue, has been a leader in AgrAbility since its inception. He has seen the program grow from model projects in a few states to an internationally recognized source of resources for farmers, ranchers and their families who are called to agriculture despite physical and mental limitations.

"The primary limiting factor for these individuals is not the lack of technology but rather the attitudes of those around them that create unnecessary barriers to success," Field said. "AgrAbility seeks to remove those barriers through its emphasis on what is possible rather than what is not."

Eric returns to the field

State vocational rehabilitation agencies (VR) are key to providing assistive technologies for farmers with disabilities. However, Nebraska VR had never worked with a farmer having Eric's level of disability. Nonetheless, his determination convinced everyone involved that farming was still his chosen vocation.

With VR's help, Eric eventually acquired modifications to drive his pickup, a power wheelchair, and a lift to get him back into his farming equipment.

The day that his tractor lift was delivered was filled with joy, cheers, and tears. Eric was once again able to return to his fields. His determination, combined with essential support from his family, AgrAbility, and a host of other professionals, helped to make Eric's dream come back to life.

AgrAbility, first authorized in the 1990 farm bill but with funding appropriations beginning in 1991, started with eight state projects and has grown to 20 this year along with six previously funded affiliate projects. Each project involves collaboration between a land-grant university and at least one nonprofit disability services organization.

The vision of AgrAbility is to enhance quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities. Through education and assistance, AgrAbility helps to eliminate - or at least minimize - obstacles that inhibit success in production agriculture or agriculture-related occupations.

The stories are being released throughout the year through AgrAbility's Facebook page and Twitter account. Some include links to videos related to the stories. Each story is also being posted on a dedicated page at