The coronavirus crisis has brought into sharp focus that agriculture is essential for our nation. This includes all parts of the industry, from production, through the supply chain, and ultimately to the retail shelf. This is something that all of us in agriculture have known all along, but amidst the tragedy and massive shift of daily routines, we take solace the rest of the country has woken to the realization when suddenly faced with an unprecedented pandemic threatening our country.
In order to keep agriculture from being impeded by lockdowns or shelter-in-place orders, a coalition of agriculture groups started work early with the Administration and key leaders and was successful in making sure agriculture was recognized as an essential industry. This allows farmers and ranchers and their employees, along with many others that would fall under the broad classification of agriculture, to continue their day-to-day activities that are essential to maintaining our national food security.
For my 22 years at South Texas Cotton & Grain Association, I have always considered farmers and ranchers to be heroes of our nation for the financial risks they take and the challenging work they do to ensure that our country has a safe, abundant, and affordable supply of food and fiber. I have found over the years that farmers and ranchers are independent, self-reliant, and strong-willed. They can also be cavalier about risk, whether it’s rattlesnakes, crazy cows, or betting the farm on the next crop, because they manage the risks they can control and accept those that they can’t. These are all great attributes for surviving challenges in agriculture like fickle markets, adverse weather, and more. These attributes also make for many great leaders that we are fortunate to have in agriculture.
There is no question that farmers and ranchers are tough. They work long hours, often doing strenuous physical work. They endure heat, cold, dust, and mud. As a group, it would be hard to find a heartier group of individuals. Unfortunately, toughness means nothing to the corona virus. This is not a risk that farmers and ranchers can afford to be cavalier about.
The average age of our farmers and ranchers puts many of them in the high-risk category for severity of COVID-19. That coupled with the fact that many farmers and ranchers rely on rural healthcare that has limited capacity, means that they must be vigilant when it comes to protecting their health and the health of those around them. It is critically important that farmers and ranchers, and their families, follow the recommendations of the CDC on social distancing and hygiene. It is also critical to err on the side of caution, if you think you are ill, to self-quarantine to avoid spreading to others.
The challenges our nation faces today are truly unprecedented, but we will get through it. We will prevail because our entire nation has mobilized. We will prevail because we have the best researchers in the world working on treatments and vaccines. We will prevail because we have the biggest economy in the world and are willing to spend what it takes to get through it. We will prevail, but it will take time.
While we recognize that agriculture and all those who work in the industry are essential, none of us are invincible. Please do your part to protect your health and the health of those around you.
Jeff Nunley grew up on a family rowcrop farm in Port Lavaca. He has been the executive director for South Texas Cotton & Grain Association since 1998.