Am I up to the physical labor of starting a new farming business?

Many farms are equipped with up-to-date, labor saving machines and equipment, but many tasks on smaller, start-up farms require a great deal of physical effort.


Over the past several decades, American agriculture has been transformed by the introduction of great improvements to production efficiency. Among these are labor-saving machines and equipment which allow farmers to produce more food and farm products per person-hour than ever before. Regardless of all the amazing machines, tools and gadgets, farming is still a very physically demanding occupation. Even those operating large, highly mechanized farms occasionally must resort to hand tools—shovels, pry bars, chain saws, mechanic tools, etc.—for any number of essential farm tasks. The operation of high-tech machinery also requires a lot of effort over long hours. Loss of attention or concentration due to fatigue can result in mistakes or accidents involving, at best, loss of time and money, or, at worst, serious injury or death.

The growth of the small, direct-marketing local farm sector includes many people of all ages new to agriculture. Situations can emerge early in the new business that challenge the physical abilities of the new farmer. “Can I really do this by myself?” “How can this task be accomplished without so much physical strain?” In many cases, older people or people with disabilities want to start new, small-scale farm operations and could benefit greatly from advice or assistance from knowledgeable sources to cope with their limitations.

Michigan AgrAbility is an excellent resource for farmers with physical limitations. In partnership with Easter Seals of Michigan and Michigan State University, Michigan AgrAbility provides help to farmers with chronic health conditions such as back pain or strength issues, hearing or vision loss, amputations and paralysis, stroke, head injury or PTSD, fatigue and other disabling medical conditions. Their goal is to help the farmer to keep farming and to be able to generate an adequate income to provide for his or her family.

To help new and potential farmers gain insights into what physical challenges they may face, Michigan State University Extension is offering a webinar on Jan. 16, 2019 titled “Getting started with the physical labor of farming” as part of the 2019 Beginning Farmer Webinar Series. Ned Stoller, agricultural engineer with the Easterseals Michigan AgrAbility Program, will discuss the physical workload of starting a farm...hours per day, days per year, lifting, bending, crawling, carrying, digging, reaching, etc.

Stoller will give a realistic look at the effort people will face for various farm enterprises and tools to help them work more efficiently, especially if they are not in perfect health condition. There is a small registration fee for the webinar and a discount if all 12 webinars are selected. If the registration fee is an obstacle to participation, scholarship opportunities may be available by contacting Jim Isleib, MSU Extension educator, at

To register or for more information, visit MSU Extension’s 2019 Beginning Farmer Webinar Series.

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