Agricultural Safety and Engineering

Graduate Research Assistant - University of Missouri

We are seeking a graduate (PhD or MS) student working in the area agricultural safety and engineering focusing on developing novel farm tools and equipment for women farmers using ergonomic, engineering, automation and smart technologies. The student will work with faculty in the Agricultural System Technology program, Animal Science, Plant Science and Biological Engineering in the University of Missouri, Columbia, MO. The student may choose to enroll different degree programs, including Biological Engineering, Plant Science with focus on digital agriculture, or other engineering programs (e.g., Mechanical Engineering) based on needs. This position is funded by a research project starting from the Spring /Summer 2022.

Tuition, stipend and benefits will be provided.

The project aims to develop solutions to improve the health and safety of farm tools and equipment for women farmers. Most of current tools and equipment are designed based on average size of men farmers and are usually too heavy and large for women farmers. We will identify the critical issues in current farm tools and equipment, and develop next-generation tool with high efficiency and safety features using ergonomic, engineering, automation and smart technology.
Students with a background and research interest in mechanical engineering, agricultural and biological engineering, ergonomics, agricultural safety, and automation systems are encouraged to apply. Some preferred skills for candidates include strong communication skills with professionals and farmers, technical writing, mechanical design and simulation. Interested candidates may send your CV and a statement of interests to Dr. Jianfeng Zhou (, 573-882-2495).

Project Summary
Women make up a growing share of principal farm operators, especially on farms engaged in sustainable agriculture. The 2017 census showed that nearly 30% of farms in the US are farmed by women as principal farm operators. In Missouri, there are 59,000 women being part of a farm. However, almost all farm tools and equipment are designed based on the average size of men farmers. There are no on-going research efforts investigating the safety and health risks due to a mismatch between the physical capacity of women farmers and the physical demands of their jobs with regard to farm tools and equipment. Meanwhile, current safety education for the agricultural population is often aimed at men, but women may be less prepared to prevent injuries, illness, and chronic conditions related to agriculture work. The goal of this project aims to improve the safety and health for women farmers by identifying essential issues of farm tools and equipment used by women farmers, and providing solutions through presenting education programs, providing simple solutions, and developing next-generation tools using ergonomic, engineering, automation and smart technology standards. Surveys and field evaluation will be conducted on selected tools and equipment using by women farmers on animal and crop production to identify the essential issues (injury, illness, chronic conditions, disability or death), which will be analyzed and classified into different categories (e.g., design flaw, inappropriate design and operation, outdated products). Education programs will be presented to increase the awareness of the potential hazards and knowledge of properly selecting and using tools. We will develop simple ergonomic solutions to improve the safety and health for women farmers, and also develop next-generation tools and equipment as potential long-term solutions. We will work closely with women farmers, who will serve as cooperators, advisory team members and collaborators, to collect first-hand information, and guide the implementation of the proposed research. Project outcomes and findings will be shared with women farmers in the NCR and US to improve their safety, health and efficiency in use of farm tools and equipment. The long-term impact of the project will reduce farm injuries, improve women farmers health and safety, and improve the overall sustainability of agriculture in the NCR. This project will contribute to the NCR-SARE broad-based outcomes: improved farm equipment will increase the profitability and associated agricultural businesses, enhance the life quality of farmers and environment in the long run.