Technology Helps Farmer with ALS Still Enjoy the Field He Loves

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Kentucky farmer Aaron Reding is coping with his diagnosis by utilizing technology to help him continue his passion and love for farming. ( Farm Journal )

Kentucky farmer Aaron Reding will be the first to admit 2019 hasn’t been easy.

“We’ve had some bumps in the road, but we're certainly making a lot better progress than some other folks across the country,” said Reding, who is part of Homestead Family Farms in Howardstown, Ky.

He’s never been one to complain, even when an unexpected diagnosis changed the way he’s able to farm.

“As a person with a disability --  I have Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), so, I'm no longer able to physically be in the equipment and operate the equipment --  I have a lot of great people that that work here along great family members and employees that work here and help me out with that, so I'm blessed to have that,” he said. “For me to still be here in the office, trying to try to manage and operate the farm from here, just having the ability to get notifications and to be aware of things that are going on that not very long ago, we would not have had the ability to do it, just it gives me a lot more visibility and comfort with how things are going on out in the field.”

Comfort that comes with reliable employees, helping not only run the equipment, but monitor several machines at once.

“I'm kind of monitoring making sure that everybody's working efficiently, and we have monitors on everything, so they can track the work in their jobs,” said JD Miracle, a precision ag agronomist with Homestead Farms. “From tillage, spring planting easily 20 to 25 different pieces of equipment.”

It’s not just a reliable relationship with his own employees, but also partners like Reding’s equipment dealer; a team that help Homestead Farms run without a hitch. The relationship was tested and proven this spring, when an issue surfaced with one of Reding’s sprayers.

“We received a critical alert code saying one of his pumps was going to fail,” said Bruce Westerfield, Sales Manager, Wright Implement, with stores in Kentucky. “That's when we contacted Homestead Farms about their issue that they were fixing to have.”

Westerfield said the issue was with the DEF pump, which supplies fluid to the engine to make exhaust fumes more efficient. It’s a critical piece of the sprayer, and the machine won’t work without it. So, when the alert came in, Westerfield knew the issue was major.

“When you see an expert alert come over, we know that there's fixing to be a failure within several hours,” he said. “So, it is a shutdown situation.”

On the brink of a major shutdown, Westerfield picked up the phone to call Homestead Farms.

“We will probably get three, four or five calls in a season -  say a planting season or a harvest season - about something they are seeing that's of a magnitude where they feel a need to call out and say, ‘Hey, you know, something's not looking right.’”

With impeding weather, Homestead Farms was under the gun with a short window to spray, so they decided to keep rolling.

“Collectively, we all knew that if we had a few more hours to continue spraying, that's what we were going to do,” said Miracle. “We were working with a window of time that we had, so if we were going to be rained out then we're just going to run until that happens.”

“We thought, ‘well, that's a problem, but it's not necessarily going to ground us at this moment,” said Reding.
It was only five hours before the sprayer shut down, and in that time, wheels were already in motion to fix the problem.  

“It worked perfectly, because if we didn't have the expert alert, what's going to happen is the sprayers going to fail, and he's going to call the dealership,” said Westerfield. “The dealership is going to react after that, and probably a day later, you're getting to the field. We fixed the issue the same day.”

“I guess the thing that that that really hits me is what that technology allowed to happen,” said Reding. “They took action when they knew that, ‘hey, those guys are trying to get as much done as they can, they're going to push forward, but look, we know that it's just a matter of time before it quits.’ So, they knew they needed to have a pump ready, and they were proactive about having that ready to go. As a result, they resolved it and really minimized our downtime.”

ALS may ultimately take Reding’s ability to farm, but thanks to technology, he’s been given the chance to hold it at arms’ length, to enjoy a few more moments in the field he loves.