NC Agromedicine Institute

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Professor Lena Carawan works with her brother, Lee Williams and his wife, Madge Williams to improve their fishing operation.

The Certified Safe Farm program will help farmers assess the level of safety on their farms using a safety checklist provided by the institute. The checklist includes things like keeping farm chemicals behind lock and key, having covers over dangerous equipment, having roll bars on tractors, and keeping emergency shut offs on farm equipment enabled. Once farmers complete the checklist, a specially trained NC Cooperative Extension Office agent will validate the findings and, if necessary, work with the farmer to bring the farm up to an acceptable level of safety. The farm will receive a Certified Safe Farm designation when the farmer has satisfactorily completed both the on-farm safety checklist and applicable occupational health screenings provided by an AgriSafe healthcare provider.

Lee Williams owns Hobo Seafood in Swan Quarter, NC. The NC Agromedicine Institute is working with him to see how they can better serve the state's fisheries.

The original AgriSafe/Certified Safe Farm program in Iowa helped 1,200 farmers lower their collective health insurance claims by 47 percent, and out-of-pocket health care expenses by 25 percent as a result of their participation in the program. Tutor has spoken with the North Carolina Farm Bureau, whom she said is very excited about the program’s potential to reduce liability claims. She hopes that farmers in North Carolina will also see that a minimal investment in health and safety can reap real financial benefits.

“Because [a farmer’s] concern is the bottom dollar—getting the crops in, maintaining the farm—they’re not realizing that the most valuable commodity they have is not the wheat corn, cotton, soybeans, pigs, or whatever, but it’s them,” she said. “Because if they are not here, or able to continue working, the farm is gone.”

The Thompsons are eager to become one of the first farm families in North Carolina to participate in AgriSafe- NC and receive a Certified Safe Farm designation for their farm. They are hopeful that one day their efforts to make their farm safer will result in more manageable insurance costs.

“The price of insurance is a variable that we might be able to do something about,” said Tami of the institute’s larger goals. “We can’t control the market prices. We can’t control the cost of fertilizer. We can’t control gas prices. But if we can do something about insurance, that’s one thing that is within our reach.”

Even if their premiums never drop a cent, the Thompsons involvement with the institute has already shown positive returns. Having always wanted to invest in more fire extinguishers for their farm, Tami was told about a grant from the national Farm Safety 4 Just Kids organization that provides resources for farmers to purchase expensive safety equipment, and applied for it.

One of the biggest threats to agriculture in North Carolina is the rising cost and availability of health care. Nationally, health insurance costs are rising at three times the rate of inflation, and those rising costs can affect farmers more because of the risk associated with agriculture. It is the second most dangerous occupation in the United States, behind only mining. Agricultural dangers are often compounded, because unlike with mining, many of the hazards that make agriculture so dangerous, things like grain mold, dust, pesticide residue, and organic toxins often affect more than just farm workers. Truck drivers, feed mill operators, and especially family members of farm workers are exposed to occupational hazards as well.

ECU professor Lena Carawan's study of occupational stress and fishers revealed troubling data concerning access to health care.

“The farm is one of the few places where the workplace is also the home and leisure environment,” said Tutor.

With higher risk come higher premiums. Spivey recently contacted the institute in hopes of finding some assistance for a farm family that was in economic crisis partly due to health insurance costs, which had reached more than $16,000 a year.

“This family had come to Bryant because NC Cooperative Extension is a very trusted organization. They really have great relationships with their farmers, and so this farm wife came to him for help. So as Bryant was working with them on the production side to get the farm more profitable for this year’s harvest, we met with them and just through a couple of very simple things, were able to reduce their health insurance cost by $2,400 a year,” said Tutor.

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