What It Means to #FarmOn

02:51PM Apr 09, 2020
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#FarmOn
( Big Sky Farm Her - Michelle Jones )

The following commentary on Farm Journal's #FarmOn campaign is from Montana farmer Michelle Jones. Here Jones read her comments and see some of the #FarmOn photos submitted from across the country in the video below. Show us how you #FarmOn by using the hashtag or text photos or video to 31313.

By Michelle Jones

What does it mean to #FarmOn? Farm Journal started a campaign to highlight the continued march of our agriculture industry through the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are certainly not immune to the economic impacts of the crisis, our farms continue to produce, prep for the coming season, and roll on. It is honestly a weird feeling. I have watched as my friends and family’s lives have been turned upside down and yet, here I am, continuing my day as normal. So what does it mean to #FarmOn?

 

Life as we know it?

The past few weeks have had a surreal feeling to them. Grocery stores appear to be emptying (we do not have a food shortage – read here), cars have sat parked in drive ways, and planes have been parked as the world retreated to the relative safety of their homes. Friends who have never worked from home are suddenly working from home, homeschooling their children, clearing their schedules of anything and everything, and navigating being home ALL THE TIME. It’s not easy if you have never done it. It’s not easy even if you have. The uncertainty of the situation adds anxiety, stress, and a whole host of emotions to be honest.

But for us, out on the farm, it feels like business as usual. Every day – I wake up and go about my day like nothing has changed. Because nothing has. We still #FarmOn. Spring work needs done, cows need fed, calves need checked, fences need fixed, paperwork needs done. If I am being honest, it makes me feel guilty. Guilty that I can leave the house. Guilty that I can go to work, guilty that I get to spend my day in a world that feels like an alternative reality to so many. Monday and Tuesday I largely worked where I did not have cell service, just going about my day, doing work, listening to podcasts – and nothing was any different than if would have been two months ago or a year ago. It is a privilege to #FarmOn.

Essential Service

Agriculture is an essential service. We are exempted from any of the stay at home orders – and that includes our wide and sprawling supply chain. We are essential for obvious reasons, we produce food. Food is essential. Not every farm gets to carry on like everything is normal like we do obviously, many have large numbers of employees and need to change how they conduct business. Produce, large animal operations, and others have had to implement new measures to keep their employees safe. Meanwhile out on the open expanses of the Northern Plains, I have not seen anyone besides my immediate family in a week. We spend our days naturally socially distanced.

We #FarmOn because we have to. Agriculture marches to a constant drumbeat, we are constantly moving. Animals grow, crops need planted, deadlines have to be met. We cannot stop for a global pandemic, or if we do, we risk missing an entire crop year. If we miss an entire crop year – we miss an entire year of income. Animals are either constantly growing or producing milk, we cannot stop that process. They have to be milked, they have to be fed, they have to be moved through the supply chain when they reach a certain age or weight. Even when it feels like the rest of the world has stopped turning, we keep going. We #FarmOn.

Colliding Worlds

So where do COVID-19 and agriculture collide? In all honesty, a lot of places. In the processing part of the supply chain they are struggling to keep some plants open as their employees have contracted COVID-19. The US and Canada have both been impacted by these closures. The ethanol industry has been devastated by a perfect storm of a Saudi/Russian supply war and demand destruction from stay at home orders. Ethanol plants across the Midwest and Central Plains have been temporarily closing or reducing hours. Processors for multiple commodities are invoking “force majeure” clauses, which means they are canceling contracts because of an unforeseen disaster. This leaves producers without a place to go with their products, products they thought had been successfully marketed.

While we #FarmOn though, it feels like we are facing an entirely different world. One that will look very different when we emerge on the other side. Demand destruction has devastated the dairy, beef, and produce industry. Dairy has lost so much demand that they are dumping milk because there is too much being produced, not nearly enough processors, and not nearly enough demand. Beef has seen an incredible drop in demand. Prices have plummeted for many of the major commodities. Global supply chains and demand have been disrupted by countries across the globe ordering their citizens inside. We have no idea what the world will look like when we emerge from this. Will the U.S. still buy 50% of their food outside the home? Will our supply chain be forever changed because of the bottlenecks this pandemic highlighted? So many many more questions and so few answers. But yet, we #FarmOn.

The Privilege of #FarmOn

Our ability to #FarmOn, to spend our days lost in our own worlds, is a privilege. A privilege I will never take for granted. We are essential, we are raising food for customers around the world, but we are not healthcare workers. We are not the people that wake up every morning and are unsure if they will return home healthy. It is a privilege to sit on top of a hill, gazing across the rolling hills, seeing them turn a tinge of green signaling the start of another year. The privilege of knowing I am about as safe as it gets, and the privilege to keep my life intact. To #FarmOn. It is my sincere hope, that as we tell these stories, the stories of agriculture marching to the perpetual drumbeat of time, the stories of how we #FarmOn, that we never forget how privileged we are to do it. I look forward to the day that COVID-19 is a distant memory, I look forward to the day that I do not feel guilty going about my day, but I also hope I never take for granted the privilege of being healthy and being able to #FarmOn.

Related:

#FarmOn: Despite Pandemic, Agriculture Persists