Three injured farmers from Saskatchewan and one from Ontario have received funding to help them get back to what they love — farming.
The Back to Ag Program gives injured producers up to $10,000 to help with the purchase of adaptive technology such as a cattle-handling system, grain-handling system, or wheelchair lift. The program is a joint effort of the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, Farm Credit Canada, and the Rick Hansen Foundation.
Barry Cloutier, a farmer from near Ponteix, Sask., was injured in October 2014 while running a round baler.
“The twine yanked out,” he said. “To see where the problem was, I had to leave the baler running.”
That’s when he saw the buildup of chaff and straw.
“I’ve had two baler fires, so I’m pretty wary of extra chaff and straw. I reached out to remove the blockage — I wasn’t thinking at that point, and that’s when my fingers found the roller chain.
“I knew better, but it was close to suppertime, and I wanted to be done my work in 15 minutes.”
Cloutier lost portions of his index and middle finger on his right hand. After a night in Swift Current’s hospital and day surgery in Regina, he was back on the farm.
“I had to have my hand bandaged and cleaned daily at the local hospital. I also had to drive to Regina for a time for a hand therapy program,” he said. “The physical therapist told me that she could see I was stubborn and that I was going to work to get my hand and fingers to the point where I could make a fist. And I did.”
Even with his injury, Cloutier hasn’t slowed down on the farm.
“I don’t want to do anything else,” he said. “This is where my heart is. This is me, this is who I am, and this is what I do.”
However, his injury has affected his ability to do his job on the farm.
“It’s a good thing I’m stubborn,” he said. “Things are more difficult. I have to think and plan very carefully what I’m going to do. My hand is always very sensitive, always cold. If I’m climbing a ladder or working around machinery, I have to be very thoughtful about how to use my hand. The strength isn’t there anymore.”
Cloutier has looked into other programs and personal insurance, but there was nothing to help him deal with his injury. Then he saw an article about Back to Ag.
“I was waiting for my wife and happened across a newspaper article about Back to Ag,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s interesting!’”
That got him thinking about applying what type of technical solution would best accommodate his injury. Cloutier faces many challenges in having only two fingers on his dominant hand and hauling five-gallon pails is one of them. With over 200 head of livestock, he was dependent on a shovel and pail to feed his animals.
“I put out pails six months of the year,” he said. “I needed something that would help ease the pressure and pain on my hand.”
Through the Back to Ag Program, he was able to purchase a cattle-feed cart. He can now feed his livestock more efficiently and safely, without the risk of injuring his hand further.
He encourages other traumatically injured farmers to find out more about the Back to Ag Program.
“Definitely apply,” he said. “Find out more and use it for something that’s going to help you and be useful on your farm.”