Current and Future Times (2014—)

New Programs – “Grandchildren” of the IAM

Agricultural Health and Safety Alliance (ASHA)

In 2017, Carolyn Sheridan left the AgriSafe Network to start a new non-profit venture, the Agricultural Health and Safety Alliance (AHSA 2019).  AHSA budded directly from the AgriSafe Network, which was originally founded as a program of ICASH. This new organization specializes in education in the field of agricultural health and safety to a variety of audiences.  Their primary audience is college students in agricultural production education programs. She works with Program Director David Sullivan.  They have presented programs in North America as well as Sweden and Australia.

Agricultural Medicine: Rural Occupational Health Safety and Prevention Donham and Thelin, 2016

In 2016, the second edition of original textbook published in 2006 was substantially revised. The 2016 book content is based on input from the second national consensus process of 2012. The 2016 edition includes updates on all research in the field.  It provides a new in-depth chapter on prevention. The 2016 edition also provides a global perspective of production agricultural and related health and safety programs in other countries. The regions covered around the world include the 27-member European Community, the Mercosur countries of S. America (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay), and Australia and New Zealand.  This text was designed to serve students as a text for the various academic agricultural health and safety programs around the world, and to serve practicing clinical and non-clinical health and safety professionals worldwide in their endeavors in agricultural health and safety education, research, and outreach, programs.

Agricultural Health and Safety Chapter in Patty’s Industrial Hygiene. 

Patty’s Industrial Hygiene is a core reference for professional Industrial Hygienists. Circa 1985, William Popendorf PhD, CIH and Donham penned a chapter for that text on Agricultural Hygiene. We have revised it three times for new editions of Patty’s.  The most recent edition was written in 2019 by Donham and Matthew Nonnenmann PhD CIH.  Nonnenmann is associate professor in the DOEH in the CPH at Iowa.  He was trained in IH and agricultural health at Iowa.  He will be the primary author in future revised editions.  In this way, responsibility for the field in the IH profession was passed to the next generation.  The importance of this chapter is raising the visibility of agricultural health and safety for the Industrial Hygiene (IH) profession.  The profession of IH in general has paid little attention to the industry sector of agriculture. This chapter, in a way, brings back full circle to the founding of the IAM, when Clyde Berry PhD, CIH was the founding Associate Director of the IAM in 1955.  He aimed to apply the principles of IH (anticipation, recognition, and control) to agricultural medicine.  In addition, along with an IH approach, he also advanced a “one health” approach in developing the IAM.

New Faculty

Beginning in early 2000’s, many changes occurred in faculty involved in agricultural health and safety at the University of Iowa. Dr. William Popendorf left for Utah State University, Dr. Steve Reynolds left for Colorado State University in 2001, and Dr. Wayne Sanderson left for the University of Kentucky.  Merchant retired in 2008, and a new Dean for the CPH (Susan Curry) took over.  Donham retired in October of 2013.

Several new faculty members have come to join the DOEH in the CPH.  Although they have a diverse portfolio of responsibilities, they also have some activity in agricultural safety and health. Below, I list those faculty members, the year joining the University of Iowa, and a brief mention of one of their main activities in agricultural safety and health as of this writing (2021). Their names and years joining the university and one of their main activities in the agricultural health and safety follow:

Fred Gerr MD (2002) Directed the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health.  Retired in 2020;

Renè Anthony PhD CIH (2009) Current Director the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health;

Nate Fethke PhD (2009) Ergonomics Researcher, Great Plains Center;

Diane Rohlman PhD (2011) Director of Agricultural Health and Safety Training Program;

Matt Nonnenmann (2011) Researcher, Great Plains Center;

Brandi Janssen (2014) Director, ICASH.

Although the faculty mentioned above are engaged in Agricultural Health and Safety, all of them have other research and or teaching activities in their portfolios unrelated to agricultural health and safety.  However, important and extensive activity continues in agricultural health and safety within the College of Public Health. It is likely that such activity will continue into the future. What seems missing, compared to the IAM years, is leadership engagement in national and international professional organizations in agricultural safety and health. There appears to be little current inclination to lead in such organizations as International Society for Agricultural Safety and Health (ISASH),  Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America  (ASHCA), International Commission in Occupational Health (ICOH), International Association of Rural Health and Medicine (IARM),  —organizations which the IAM and its  faculty had a hand in spawning and leading. The question remains whether agricultural health and safety activities in the Iowa CPH will persist if current funding mechanisms go away. Federal funding for the NIOSH agricultural health and safety program has been questionable for many years and remains so today (2021). State funding for ICASH has been challenged three time, but remains modestly supported through efforts of state-wide constituents, stake holders, and its leaders.

Agriculture has changed dramatically over the 64 years this story has followed. There are fewer and older farmers and more women farmers (about 30% of all principal farm operators). There are fewer but larger farms. There are more local alternative-agriculture food producers (e.g., local production, organic production), and a higher percentage of them are women-operated compared to commodity farming.  Women own over half Iowa farmland; they outlive their spouses. Most of the land farmed in Iowa is rented or leased. It is questionable whether there will remain a public will to support occupational health of farmers with these demographic changes and with the widening urban— rural sociopolitical divide. Further, farm population has been passive in support and advocacy for their own occupational health. Continued support and development of new funding for research and outreach will depend on advocacy by farmers, the extent of interest among agricultural health and safety faculty, and academic institutional support.  Over the years, a decreasing number of faculty personnel have a farm background. Personal background, life experience, and knowledge can enhance motivation for efforts in agricultural health and safety despite shifts in support and increased funding to work in other fields. Although the CPH lists Rural Health as one of the Collective Areas of Excellence there appears to be little focused institutional aim or support for Agricultural Health and Safety compared to the original IAM that served as a foundation to what is present today within the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa. The IREH (formerly the IAM) is now just a facility. It is not now an Institute as such as was the IAM.  However, it does retain a visual icon of what the IAM once was.  The IREH building was once filled to capacity with vibrant and far-reaching agricultural health and safety programs. It is now nearly empty and will be demolished in the future.  Disappearance of that icon will likely further dim the memory of the IAM.  Although this vision may be pessimistic, it is this author’s assessment. This outlook overshadows the IAM, its founders and the programs that led to the historic institution for which Iowa was known worldwide and its place in the evolution of the professional field of agricultural medicine in Iowa, nationally, and internationally.

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