Parry Cochran climbs silos, drives tractors and feeds cows -- all the chores needed around his farm in northeast Ohio. Yet he lost his left hand in a truck accident 16 years ago.
"There's nothing I haven't been able to overcome," said Cochran, 33, who runs a 700-acre farm near Wooster. "It's not something you can teach somebody. It's all trial and error."
The only special equipment he has are vise grips that attach to his prosthesis.
For generations of farmers, overcoming a disability had meant doing it on their own. Now there is specially designed equipment, such as tools that attach to prosthetic arms, and dozens of support groups for disabled farmers.
"When we got started we found there was very little information a farmer could turn to that would help them remain independent," said William Field, supervisor of Breaking New Ground, a 25-year-old outreach program for disabled farmers.
The agency, which operates through Purdue University in Indiana, has published 30 guidebooks. "Most of the products out there target office workers or recreational uses," Field said. "Our audience wants to drive a tractor or a bulldozer."
The average age of a U.S. farmer is slightly more than 55, and many are beginning to deal with more aches and pains. Field said the program is seeing more farmers with arthritis and joint problems, ailments that can be tied to years of milking cows or shoveling manure out of livestock stalls.
There is no number on how many farmers have disabilities. Only 10 states keep track of farm accidents and injuries. Several studies have estimated it could be as many as one out of every five.
"Many times farmers don't really consider themselves disabled," said Ronald T. Schuler, head of the National AgrAbility Project, which is based at the University of Wisconsin and serves 26 states.
Program employees meet with farmers and suggest what tools and equipment will keep them farming. They also help pay for some items.
The agency helped Jon Stauffer buy an all-terrain vehicle that gets him through his fields in Milford, Neb. Walking became difficult after he had a stroke in 1988.
"At first, I turned it down," Stauffer said. "But we have to do a lot of walking in wet fields, and this thing goes through a lot of that."
Farming is among the top 10 most dangerous occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers are exposed almost daily to moving machines, chemicals and repetitive motion.
The National Safety Council, which tracks workplace accidents, estimates that 110,000 farmers nationwide suffered an injury last year that caused them to miss at least a half day of work.
Those numbers are probably low because farmers tend to work through a lot of pain and injuries, said Sam Steele, director of the council's National Education Center for Agricultural Safety.
Farm machine makers have recognized that more farmers have special needs and are building more accessible equipment, Schuler said.
Companies build everything from mechanical lifts that enable farmers in wheelchairs to get on their tractors to harvest carts that allow farmers to sit closer to the ground and reduce the time spent stooping to pick vegetables.
Ed Bell never considered another occupation even after he was shot and paralyzed in 1982 at age 21.
"Part of that is just rural mentality," he said. "I'm a farmer. My neighbors are farmers. My friends are farmers."
Following months of rehabilitation, he returned to the hog farm where he grew up in Hagerstown, Ind. Friends and neighbors helped make a lift and hand controls that got him back on the tractor.
He began growing strawberries in 1985. It was something he always wanted to do.
"I figured, 'What do I have to lose? I've already lost it all,' " said Bell, who now works and speaks with other farmers with disabilities.