NC Agromedicine Institute

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Robin Tutor (far right) is the director of the Agromedicine Institute and works to help small farmers like the Thompson family.

For his family, that simple test saved time, money, and stress.

“First of all, a farmer has got to be completely out of commission to quit working and go to a doctor,” said Tami. “And then it would have easily taken two days out of the work schedule for David to have gone to the doctor to get a pulmonary function test, because they would first have to diagnose that he needed one. First you get prescribed a course of medication. Then, when you’re not better, you go back to the doctor. He’ll then decide you need the pulmonary function test, which you have to go somewhere else for. So you are possibly looking at three co-pays and a prescription in order to get done what they did here in five minutes.”

With many so many farm owners unable to provide health insurance, and with private policies out of reach for many agricultural workers, AgriSafe clinics are truly a lifeline for many farmers and their families.

Bryant Spivey, director of the Johnston County NC Cooperative Extension Office, works closely with the NC Agromedicine Institute to better serve farmers in Johnston County, NC.

When the AgriSafe program is fully established in North Carolina, it will comprise a network of health care providers who are specially trained in agricultural medicine. In December, ECU’s Brody School of Medicine, the University of Iowa, College of Public Health, and others will join with the institute to offer the state’s first agricultural medicine certification course.

“Right now, there is little if any agricultural occupational safety and health preparation for nurses, doctors, and allied health professionals,” said Tutor. “I did a research project with 10 health departments in eastern North Carolina where I asked them about pesticide exposure—if they knew how to recognize it, how to treat it, where would they go if they needed help, do they have information for patients, whatever. They all told us the same thing—very little.”

Despite the industry’s struggles, Agriculture is still the largest revenue generator in North Carolina. According to NCSU economist Mike Walden, agriculture/agribusiness accounts for $70 billion of state revenues annually. Yet farmers are barely scraping by. It is hard to reconcile that an industry that provides so well, supports so poorly.

The culprit is costs—specifically the rising costs associated with the things farmers, fishers, and foresters require to operate their businesses. The NC Agromedicine Institute is working with those in the agriculture industry to combat those costs wherever possible.

Farm liability insurance is one example where costs are becoming prohibitive. An area that has been hit especially hard in this regard is agro-tourism, a growing segment of the agriculture industry where farms like Lazy-O showcase farming and farm life for both educational and entertainment purposes.

The Thompsons know how difficult it can be for a farmer to afford not only the liability insurance required on his or her farm, but also the added cost of a supplemental policy to cover agro-tourism activities—presuming they can even get someone to cover them.

“Trying to find someone to insure agro-tourism activities is next to impossible. All they can think of is, ‘You’re bringing children out here to stick their hands near a calf’s mouth.’ We take every precaution there is to keep everyone safe, but it still doesn’t help with getting insurance,” said Tami.

Tutor believes that the NC Agromedicine Institute can help farmers like Dave and Tami. She is currently working with the institute’s partners on a component of AgriSafe-NC called Certified Safe Farm, which has the goal of reducing insurance premiums for participating farmers across the state. The NC Agricultural Foundation at NCSU recently received a grant from the Tobacco Trust Fund which will allow the Institute to continue AgriSafe services and to work with its partners to add the Certified Safe Farm component. Target counties for the project will be Johnston, Sampson, and Duplin.

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