Reprinted from Saskatchewan Farmer’s Voice / By Kim Kennett
Bob Guest from Denholm understands what it’s like to live with a disability. When he was four years old, he lost an arm. It was the kids’ responsibility to take the cushion off the steel seat of the tractor at night to keep it dry, so that’s what he did. But it fell into the power takeoff and he reached in to retrieve it….
It all happened in a split second. As most accidents do.
Despite his disability, Guest has been successfully farming for over 30 years. Through trial and error, he’s figured out how to make things work, whether it’s adapting equipment to meet his needs, or modifying how he does his work. He also curled competitively, played fastball and got his Class 1A driver’s license.
His experiences having to manage without his right arm prompted him to become involved in helping other farmers who had accidents. In the mid-80s, he was one of the founding members of the Saskatchewan Disabled Farmers. When the Canadian Farmers with Disabilities Registry (CFWDR) was formed in the late 90s, Guest represented Saskatchewan on the board and is currently the Chair.
CFWDR is a community of disabled farmers that provide a support system to other farmers living with disability or illness. Guest says CFWDR is the only organization of its kind in Canada that assists farmers in managing their situation after an accident.
“If a farmer has just been injured in an accident and has lost the use of his legs, and a guy in a wheelchair who has been farming for the last 10 or 20 years rolls in to reassure him that he can still farm, it makes a huge difference,” Guest says. “A doctor telling them that they’re going to be OK just isn’t the same because they’ve got both arms and both legs and they don’t know what it’s like.”
Guest calls the CFWDR a source of information that medical professionals can refer injured farmers to.
“Our role is also supportive in nature, to tell them it’s not the end of the world. They can still be a productive part of their farm – and here’s where they can get information to develop the equipment so they can use it properly without getting into more trouble.”
And timing is everything, according to Guest. “We know that the earlier we can get to someone who’s had an accident, the more likely they are to stay on the farm and keep farming. We need to be able to reach disabled farmers as soon as possible to assist with all phases of recovery. We match the victim’s family with another family who have had a similar accident, so that they can go to the farm and help them solve issues.”
Until 2008, CFWDR was funded through the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, or CASA. The funding enabled CASA to provide administrative support for CFWDR which included maintaining a database of farmers with disabilities and arranging volunteer visitations for accident victims. The money also covered meeting costs for CFWDR and volunteers’ travel expenses.
Unfortunately, federal budget cuts to CASA, along with changes to the agriculture-funding agreements between the federal government and the provinces that required matching funds, changed that agreement. CASA was unable to continue providing financial support to CFWDR.
For the past 10 years, CFWDR has managed to continue on, but not as effectively. Volunteers are out of pocket for any expenses related to visiting injured farmers. The cash shortfall has taken a huge toll on their ability to help the people who need it.
“Due to the nature of agriculture, there’s always going to be accidents,” says Guest. “If we cease to exist, who is going to step in to work with those farmers who really need the reassurance that, yes, there is life after an accident? That with a few modifications, their lives don’t need to change that much?”
Even with the lack of funds, the CFWDR board has not been idle. They’ve been pursuing private industry for assistance and applying for government programs. However, finding anyone who is willing to cover administrative costs is a challenge. And grants often have matching funds requirements.
What worries Guest the most is that the registry is not being maintained. “There was a farmer around Yorkton who recently lost his arm in an accident. The registry is so out of date – people on that list are either passed away, not available or have quit farming. I spent half a day trying to find someone to go and see him.”
The CFWDR has also been witness to the mental health crisis in the farming community for many years now. Guest was invited to address the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food meeting on mental health in Ottawa in October 2018.
“Even without a disability, the daily challenges of mental health and managing a farm can be a lot. Add a disability to the challenges and it becomes a hundredfold more.” He adds that it is crucial to bring the family together to talk after an accident and shares an example:
“There was one case when a farmer lost his arm in an auger. The farmer was doing extremely well after the accident. He just wanted to get back to work. But the son who had turned the auger on was suffering from guilt which led to the entire family being torn apart by the incident. The family we sent in to help said there was no better feeling than seeing that family get back to being a productive family unit again.”
Guest was also invited to the APAS AGM in November 2018 to speak about the work of CFWDR and the challenges they have been facing. Following his presentation, a resolution was passed with overwhelming support.
BE IT RESOLVED that APAS assist the Disabled Farmers Association in obtaining full funding in order to continue providing services to farmers and farm families dealing with physical and mental health issues arising from injury.
As a follow-up to the resolution, Todd Lewis, President of APAS, wrote a letter to Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, expressing their concerns. Although they have not had a response, they are hoping to meet with the Minister during the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s AGM in Ottawa in late February.
“CFWDR is a vitally important organization,” stresses Lewis. “Everyone knows someone who has had a debilitating farming accident and we should do anything we can do to ease the transition for that farmer and the family.”
Although he has not yet had any firm commitments, Guest hopes he can be successful with securing funding for the registry. He knows firsthand what CFWDR has accomplished, and what may be lost if the registry closes down.
“I cannot tell you how good it feels, and the impact we can have on families when we speak to them one-on-one to give them hope that they can carry on with their farm life. It is a great loss to the agricultural community and farm families if farmers are unable to do the work they love.”