Nebraska university awarded $100K agriculture grant

Rick Ruggles
Omaha World Herald
Kyle Lammers climbs into his tractor to feed cattle Friday, Jan 19, 2018, in Hartington, Neb. In November of 1998, Lammers lost his left arm in a farming accident when he was 13 years old.

OMAHA, NE (AP) — Farming in theory is a tranquil occupation of outdoor work and independence, and in practice it is perhaps the most dangerous profession of all.

Kyle Lammers knows all about the risk. Now 33, Lammers was barely a teenager when his left arm got sucked into equipment and was basically ground down to the shoulder.

Lammers distinctly recalls being pinned in the equipment and thinking about the fact that he would have to adapt to life with just one arm. His father found him in the predicament about 20 minutes later.

But Lammers, of Hartington, Nebraska, made his peace with the personal tragedy. About 19 years later, he farms near the spot where he lost his arm.

"You always have to be thinking," he said of farming. "It's something that keeps you going."

Aaron Yoder, a University of Nebraska Medical Center faculty member, has received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update safety materials for an online repository for youths and teachers, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The grant will most likely be renewed over each of the next two years. Yoder will partner with two other professors, one at Purdue University and the other at Ohio State, who received grants for aspects of the project.

Yoder said people simply accept the danger of agriculture.

"'It's just part of the job,' is typically the type of feedback you hear," said Yoder, an assistant professor in the UNMC College of Public Health.

Kyle Lammers repairs an electric fence Friday, Jan 19, 2018, in Hartington, Neb. In November of 1998, Lammers lost his left arm in a farming accident when he was 13 years old.

Children 14 and 15 years of age are motivated to review safety material because if they work on a farm that doesn't belong to their parents, they need certification to use tractors and equipment. Such certification is typically provided through agricultural extension offices.

Then they can make money in farmwork.

Children younger than 14 aren't supposed to perform certain farm tasks, such as running heavy equipment or working with bulls, Yoder said.

The online clearinghouse is designed to make farming safer. It gives teachers, volunteers, farmers and children up-to-date information and strategies.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in 2016, the broad category of "agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting" had the highest rate of fatalities per full-time worker. That group was far ahead of transportation, which was No. 2, and construction and mining, which were tied for No. 3.

"It is a dangerous occupation, without question," said Chuck Schwab, Iowa State University farm safety specialist.

Farmworkers tend to be alone in remote spots, where help isn't readily available. They also aren't regulated as intensely as some other professions, Schwab said. And they must perform a wide variety of tasks, including driving heavy equipment, fixing the equipment and working with large animals.

Purdue's Roger Tormoehlen, who received a grant to provide farm-safety instructional and training resources, said farmers also work in adverse weather and keep going while fatigued.

Equipment has improved. For instance, tractors now have roll bars that prevent the cab from crushing the driver if the tractor tips over.

Lammers said he knew better when he was injured. He scraped feed away from the apron conveying the feed to the cattle troughs. But he failed to turn off the power takeoff, so the machinery ran, caught his glove and sucked his arm in.

He feared he might die but discovered, as he was pinned, that if he held his body in a certain position, the blood wouldn't gush.

He was in a Sioux City, Iowa, hospital for 10 days and endured many surgeries.

He loved sports and didn't know whether he'd ever play again. He worried that girls wouldn't be interested in him.

"I was self-conscious," he said. He tried to wear a prosthetic device but discarded it.

A few weeks after the accident, his parents took him to see Ron "Gus" Gustafson speak in Norfolk.

Gustafson, who now is 52 and lives in Omaha, had lost an arm when he was 9 when he was thrown under a tractor. The tractor also crushed one of his legs.

At that talk, Gustafson spun a basketball on one finger and played catch, all with one arm. Lammers was inspired. He could do that stuff, too, if he worked at it.

The numbers of fatal farm accidents aren't overwhelming. Fewer and fewer people work on farms as technology has enabled one farmer to do more.

In 2016, 42 people died in farm accidents in Nebraska and Iowa, according to UNMC's Central States Center for Ag Safety and Health.

Determining whether an accident is farm-related can be difficult, so numbers are squishy. If a farmer gets in a wreck while driving his tractor to visit his neighbor, for instance, is that a farm accident? Is a recreational accident involving an ATV on a farm an ag-related accident?

Central States' one-line descriptions of accidents leave the horror to the imagination: "pinned between bulldozer & truck"; "died while inside a grain bin that collapsed"; "fell from a tractor and was dragged by a plow"; "found inside manure spreader."

After Lammers saw Gustafson's presentation, he decided he could play sports, especially his beloved baseball. He learned to play first base, catching the ball in the glove on his right hand, flipping the ball up, dropping the glove and catching the ball to throw it. He played for a Hartington town team and for intramural softball teams at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He played softball for years after college.

He met a woman at UNO, Katelyn Gapinski, and they married in 2010. They have three children.

It's not easy working on the farm with one arm. He can't carry heavy loads and has to figure out ways to compensate.

Sometimes people stare, especially kids. He doesn't blame them. He has no major regrets. In typical farmer fashion, he says: "Life is good, I guess."

And if his kids want to farm, that will be fine with him. That's their call.