By Dale McCall
President of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union
It’s no secret that farmers and ranchers have long had to live through challenging times. Whether it’s down markets, bad weather, or international trade tensions, those who grow food, feed, fiber, and fuel have been tested for centuries, and the spreading Coronavirus pandemic only adds more uncertainty to an already uncertain time in the agriculture industry.
During the earliest days of the pandemic, American consumers crowded grocery stores to buy in bulk, stressing the supply chain and distribution system. We have also seen a significant increase in the purchase of local foods from our farm and ranch members, which is very encouraging. It is our hope that consumers will continue to support farmers and ranchers by purchasing directly from them either on the farm, at a farmers market, or through a Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) even after the pandemic ends. For every food dollar that is spent at the grocery store, farmers and ranchers only receive about 14.6 cents. When consumers buy direct from farmer or ranchers, an average of 80 cents goes back to that farmer, and much of that money then goes back into their local community when they too buy local. This cultural and economic shock to our nation’s way of life has sent a ripple effect from the farms, ranches, and rural communities in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming to urban cities nationwide. This may be an uncommon time of change, but I hope and trust we will learn lessons from this common experience for the future.
In times of struggle and concern, farmers have always found a way to persevere and remain resilient. The last few years have been difficult and uncertain for farmers and ranchers, yet each spring we plant crops and shepherd a new generation of livestock into the world. There is always something to look forward to and be hopeful for, and this time is no different.
In order to maintain this direct supply chain, though, farmers and ranchers must be able to make a profit and a living after the bills have been paid. This means adequate federal funding for safety nets such as crop insurance and other relief programs created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and any future stimulus programs.
As this pandemic continues, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union will continue to advocate for federal investment and policy priorities to ensure farmers and ranchers have an equal footing in the marketplace. We believe the CARES Act makes important and immediate steps to confront the most urgent issues that we as a country face today. In the coming weeks, we will learn more about the additional needs of our rural health care system, education system, and farmers, ranchers, and their communities. We stand ready to address these revelations as they surface.
As much as you and I take pride in taking care of ourselves and our families, we also need to take care of each other. This begins with your neighbors and extends to your surrounding community. Our older neighbors and family members are more susceptible to becoming more severely ill from this virus – and often they live in areas where healthcare options are fewer and farther between. When you abide by the quarantine and social distancing guidelines, you’re not just protecting yourself, you are protecting others from becoming ill. Now is a good time to call your families and neighbors and check in on them, and don’t forget to keep a good check on your own mental and physical health.
I have always been a believer that in order to know where we’re going, we must know where we’ve been. This is a good time to remember William Jennings Bryan, who in 1896 said, “Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”
Yes, agriculture is open for business. We are on the job of growing and raising food. However, we in the industry do need help, just as other industries need help navigating this new environment. We will be working with our state governments and federal delegations to assure we have secure adequate federal funding to make sure America’s most essential industry remains viable, both today, tomorrow and in the years to come.
The date on the calendar may change, but human nature remains constant. As a society, we tend to make the same mistakes, but as individuals, we can make a difference in our local communities. At the very core of Farmers Union is understanding the way of life for farm and ranch families and their hometown communities. We also understand how our individual actions make a difference when it matters. Please take extra caution during these challenging times. Our families, neighbors, farms, communities, consumers, and common future depend greatly upon how we navigate this challenge.