Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension are observing National Farm Safety and Health Week, Sept. 18-22.

This week commemorates the hard work, diligence, and sacrifices of our nation's farmers and ranchers and dovetails the announcement of an $800,000 grant to improve the lives of Virginia's farmers, their families, and those who live in rural communities.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the four-year grant allows project leaders with AgrAbility Virginia (http://www.agrability.ext.vt.edu/)-a farm safety project guided by Virginia Tech research-to better serve their Virginia clientele.

The project helps individuals with disabilities overcome barriers to continue their chosen profession in agriculture by modifying farm and ranch operations, adapting equipment, increasing farmstead accessibility, providing financial counseling, identifying funding sources, and coordinating community services.

Bobby Grisso, professor of biological systems engineering and Virginia Cooperative Extension farm safety specialist, noted that AgrAbility Virginia does not provide financial reimbursement for its clients. Instead, the project offers research-based educational support and needs assessments.

"If we cannot find a piece of equipment or assistive technology that's already on the market, we will use our engineering skills to develop one," Grisso said. But he added that these products are typically available from commercial vendors.

Arthritis, the chronic inflammation of the joints, has become a major focus area during the current funding cycle. According to preliminary results in a survey conducted by AgrAbility Virginia, more than 30 percent of Virginia's farmers and ranchers suffer from arthritis. Information from the Arthritis Foundation shows this figure is in line with the national average.

"Farmers and those working with large livestock who have arthritis are four times more likely to be injured on the job than those without arthritis," Grisso said.

Arthritis, however, is not AgrAbility Virginia's only research focus. According to Grisso, researchers will use USDA funds to deliver their services to the Shenandoah Valley's Old Order Mennonite population and to find innovative ways to reduce secondary injuries for agricultural workers already suffering from a disability.

Easter Seals Virginia, a non-profit disability service, administers AgrAbility Virginia's daily operations and provides on-site assessments for farmers and ranchers. For more information, visit the Easter Seals Virginia Web site (http://va.easterseals.com/).

In addition to Virginia Cooperative Extension and Easter Seals Virginia, the project combines the resources of the Department of Rehabilitative Services, Virginia Assistive Technology System, Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center, Virginia Farm Bureau, Centers for Independent Living, Virginia Arthritis Action Coalition, and Virginia Rural Health Association. Together, these nine agencies form the Virginia Rural Rehabilitation Partnership.

The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS), a partnership between Northeast Iowa Community College and the National Safety Council, convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to sign the first National Farm Safety Week proclamation in 1944. Since then, NECAS has used the mid-September week to support its mission of reducing the level of injuries, preventable illnesses, and fatalities among farmers, ranchers, their families, and employees.

This year's theme is "Prepare to Prevent."

Virginia Cooperative Extension brings the resources of Virginia's land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to the people of the commonwealth. Through a system of on-campus specialists and local agents, it provides education in the areas of agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, community viability, and 4-H youth development.

With a network of 107 offices in every county and many cities, Virginia Cooperative Extension brings solutions to the problems facing Virginians today.