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Lack Of Female Friendly Farm Tools May Pose Safety Hazard

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Men have long dominated the farming world. So farm equipment is largely designed to be used by male farmers. Female-friendly tools are hard to come by. As Illinois Public Media's Dana Cronin reports, with more women farming every year, that presents a safety issue.

DANA CRONIN, BYLINE: Dusty Spurgeon has a love-hate relationship with her tractor. She helps run Spurgeon Veggies, a small vegetable farm in Rio, Ill., along with her mother-in-law. As a woman-owned and -operated business, one of the biggest hurdles they face is the equipment they farm with.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRACTOR RUNNING)

CRONIN: Starting with the tractor. Tractors are often used to pull different implements for plowing, for planting or for harvesting. Switching those out is not easy. You often need a lot of upper body strength.

DUSTY SPURGEON: You are pushing this thing forward to fit it on to that part. And then you have to get it all the way on, which is really freaking hard (laughter).

CRONIN: Frustrating. Spurgeon uses that word over and over again.

SPURGEON: I hate it. I hate it. It makes me feel incompetent, like I can't do my job.

CRONIN: It's not just changing the implements on the tractor. It's everything about the way the tractor is designed. She finds the parking brake almost impossible to engage. The fuel tank is located at the top of the tractor, meaning she has to lift a heavy fuel can up above her head to gas up. The tractor also has a safety bar that needs to be up in case it flips. It's a very heavy bar.

SPURGEON: Oh, my God.

CRONIN: Josie Rudolphi researches agricultural safety and health at the University of Illinois. She says farming is already a dangerous job. And for women, the potential for injury is high.

JOSIE RUDOLPHI: These were designed for, you know, people of a certain weight and certain height, very much reflective of the male population in the United States.

CRONIN: That brings us to Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger. They own Green Heron Tools, which has trademarked the term hergonomic. Their tools, designed for women, are generally lighter, have patented grips to accommodate smaller hands and come in a variety of sizes. Adams and Brensinger are farmers themselves and got frustrated with the lack of female-friendly tools on the market.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Companies that painted crappy tools pink and called them ladies' tools - but we couldn't find a single case of tools or equipment that had been scientifically designed to work well for women.

CRONIN: She says the ergonomic features actually work better for every body type, including males. But until these kinds of tools are more widely available, farmers like Dusty Spurgeon will continue to struggle to do everyday farming tasks without hurting themselves.

For NPR News, I'm Dana Cronin in Urbana, Ill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.