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Ohio State University Extension


Farming with Diabetes

O​hio AgrAbility Fact Sheet Series
Agriculture and Natural Resources
S. Dee Jepsen, Assistant Professor, State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University
Kent McGuire, Ohio AgrAbility Program Coordinator, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University
Danielle Poland, Student Intern, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death listed on U.S. death certificates. It can affect people of any age. It is the leading cause of irreversible kidney disease, non-work related lower extremity amputations, and onset of blindness in people 20–74 years of age. Diabetes also increases a person's chance for a heart attack and stroke two to four times over a non-diabetic person. Diabetic people are also three times more likely to die from flu complications.

Individuals can control diabetes through medications, diet control, and physical activity. Having diabetes changes peoples lives in many ways, but should not force them to stop farming.m People with diabetes need to know and respect their bodies, realizing the disease can decrease endurance and physical tolerance, causing the onset of fatigue easily. Those individuals with diabetes are at higher risk of infection even with small cuts or minor injuries. It is important to check hands and feet every day for cuts and blisters. Wearing gloves prevents cuts, but increases chapping, so it is important to ensure hands are completely dry and to use lotion.

Before beginning the work day, that day's tasks must be planned to schedule meals and snacks. Managing energy level and time for task completion are critical for controlling diabetes. Meal planning sheets can help prepare that day's meals, so it is easy to pack a cooler with all the needed food. An electronic prompting aid helps remind the person of meal/snack times and when it is time to test blood sugar levels. There are specialized devices on the market, but a cell phone calendar or regular programmable watch that beeps at certain times works just as well.

Blood sugar levels vary depending on diet and physical activity. In the case of an extreme jump or fall in sugar levels, diabetic people need to be able to contact someone at all times in the case of an emergency. This can mean keeping a cell phone available at all times, having an intercom system in the barn that is connected to the other barns and house, and/or having a C.B. radio in all the equipment.

Assistive Technology Tools That May Be Helpful Are:

  • Mobility aids can make farming much safer by reducing the chance of fatigue and of falling. Aids include power scooters, utility vehicles, powered wheelchairs, and golf carts. After a lower amputation, hand controls can be installed on most four-wheeled pieces of equipment.
  • Protective clothing—A wide-brimmed hat should be added to a person's list of protective clothing to prevent bumps and cuts to the head. The brim of the hat will hit a protruding/overhanging object before the head. Custom-fitted shoes should be worn to prevent sores.
  • Some type of padding should be applied to protruding objects. If it is not possible to add padding to the objects, a person should wear hard hats, kneepads, shin guards, and elbow pads when working in debris-filled areas and when working around wagon tongues.
  • Markings—Contrasting colors should be applied to the edge of objects, doorways, and steps to increase visibility. Markings should also be placed on dials or scales to make them easier to read, and tags should be color coded and large enough to be read by anyone with diminished eyesight.
  • Audible motion detectors—Motion detectors with prerecorded messages placed in hazardous areas warns the person to increase alertness.
  • Trained dogs can be very useful to assist farmers with diabetes. Seeing Eye dogs are important to consider. They alert the person of potential hazards and can keep livestock at a safe distance. Herding dogs can be very useful for individuals with mobility issues, when working with livestock.
  • Handles and knobs wrapped in foam can make handles and knobs larger and easier to grasp. Tennis balls, or golf balls, can be used to replace knobs. A remote controlled door on barns should also be considered.


This fact sheet was reviewed by Karen Mancl, PhD, Professor, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University; Josh Svarda, Program Coordinator, Easter Seals Work Resource Center; and John Zeller, Rural Rehabilitation Specialist, Ohio AgrAbility.


Miner, N., & Greenstein, D. (2002). Health Farmer with Diabetes Maintains Farm and Health. Cornell Cooperative Extension, National Ag Safety Database.

National AgrAbility Project– Wisconsin. (2013). Diabetes. AgrAbility Solutions.

University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. (2001). Farming with Diabetes. AgrAbility Quarterly, 1(1).

About AgrAbility Based Fact Sheets

These fact sheets were developed to promote success in agriculture for Ohio's farmers and farm families coping with a disability or long-term health condition. AgrAbility offers information and referral materials such as this fact sheet, along with on-site assessment, technical assistance, and awareness in preventing secondary injuries. Fact sheets were developed with funding from NIFA, project number OHON0006.

Originally posted Jan 26, 2012.