According to the USDA’s most recent Census of Agriculture, roughly 36 percent of all farmers are female, a percentage that has been rising for the past decade.
The farm equipment industry appears not to have kept pace with the trend.
Dusty Spurgeon, who runs a vegetable farm in Illinois with her mother-in-law, said operating equipment designed to accommodate a differently built farmer is among her biggest challenges.
Their tractor, for example, is built with a man’s upper body strength in mind. When Spurgeon needs to switch an implement, she said if she doesn’t make the change within a couple of minutes, she cannot continue to hold the equipment as she needs to hold it.
She also encounters problems engaging the parking brake, refueling the tractor, and lifting the safety bar.
Hand tool grips are often too large, too.
Equipment has historically been designed “for people of a certain weight and certain height… pretty much reflective of the male population in the United States,” said Josie Rudolphi, who researches agricultural safety and health at the University of Illinois.
“Women are very, very capable of running these pieces of equipment,” Rudolphi said. “Sometimes getting them started or… reaching the brake and the clutch at the same time creates a challenge just based on the size and nature of some women.”
The incompatibility between a female frame and equipment design leads to a greater risk of injury among women.
Liz Brensinger and Ann Adams, farmers with backgrounds in public health, set out to find tools that were ergonomically designed for women.
“There were companies that painted crappy tools pink and called them ladies tools,” Brensinger says. “But we couldn’t find a single case of tools or equipment in the ag sector that had been scientifically designed to work well for women.”
So Brensinger and Adams co-founded Green Heron Tools, a company that focuses on researching and designing tools and machinery for women.
They use “a scientific design process to match the tool, not just to anthropometrics, kind of the size and shape and function of women’s bodies, but also how women tend to work, which is different from how men tend to work,” Brensinger said.
They trademarked the term “hergonomic” for their tools, which are generally lighter and have patented grips to accommodate smaller hands.
Source: Harvest Public Media