The North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission recently awarded a two-year, $500,000 grant to expand the AgriSafe Network of North Carolina program and to establish a new component, the Certified Safe Farm program for North Carolina agriculture.

A celebration and check presentation will take place Monday, Oct. 12, at 4 p.m. at the Johnston County Cooperative Extension Center, located at 2736 Hwy. 210 in Smithfield, N.C.

Based on a successful program developed in Iowa, the AgriSafe Network of North Carolina and Certified Safe Farm of North Carolina programs combine health and safety components proven to result in lower health claims costs and safer, healthier farmers. Agricultural health and safety experts from Iowa are assisting in the development of the program in North Carolina.

Project leaders are Dr. Greg Cope, associate professor and campus coordinator for agromedicine at North Carolina State University; Robin Tutor, interim director of the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute, a partnership of East Carolina University, North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University; and Ed Jones, associate director and state program leader with North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

"We believe this grant will have a major impact on farmers and their families," said William Upchurch, executive director of the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. "The commission is proud to be a partner on this project, and we're excited to see how smarter and healthier lifestyles, in addition to safer farms, will benefit our farmers in many ways."

A long-term goal is to develop health and liability insurance discounts for farmers who successfully participate in the AgriSafe and Certified Safe Farm programs. In addition, project staff will work with advisors to explore other incentives, such as a cost-sharing fund to help offset the costs of making high-priority safety improvements on farms.

The program initially will be offered in Johnston, Duplin and Sampson counties, with the goal to expand into the Piedmont and western regions of the state.

“One of the best features of this program is that services are offered at locations and times convenient to very busy and hard-working farmers, family members and employees,” Tutor said. “Health insurance is not required, and most services are provided at little or no cost.”

Cooperative Extension agents will receive special training in conducting on-farm safety reviews, as part of the new Certified Safe Farm of North Carolina program. During these one-on-one reviews, farmers will receive tailored recommendations for safety improvements on their farms.

“This is the kind of program we have envisioned all along for agromedicine in North Carolina,” said Cope. “We are excited to see it take shape at the community level.”

A major activity of the project will be a course, “Agricultural Medicine: Occupational and Environmental Health for Rural Health Professionals,” held Nov. 30-Dec. 4 in Greenville, N.C.

Taught by experts from the University of Iowa, along with faculty and partners of the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute, the course will address diagnosis, treatment and prevention of agricultural health conditions.

It will be required for nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians and physician assistants interested in becoming AgriSafe providers.

Continuing education credit will be offered. (For more information on the course, contact Jeffery Alejandro, Division of Continuing Studies, East Carolina University, at 1-800-767-9111 or alejandroj@ecu.edu.

“Right now, there is little if any agricultural occupational safety and health preparation for nurses, doctors and allied health professionals in North Carolina,” Tutor said. “We are excited to collaborate with Dr. Kelley Donham of the University of Iowa, a recognized expert in agricultural medicine, and Natalie Roy, executive director of the AgriSafe Network.”

The North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission awarded the grant to the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation, with a sub-contract to East Carolina University. Project partners are the Tri-County Community Health Council and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension centers of Johnston, Duplin and Sampson Counties.