Spring represents a time of renewal. This especially rings true throughout rural America as farmers plan for the upcoming planting season and many ranchers welcome the next generation to their herd.
Last spring, however, America was just beginning its fight against an unknown enemy: the COVID-19 virus.
It’s been one year since the full weight of the COVID-19 pandemic hit most communities across America as stay-at-home orders were issued and the immense toll that this virus would take on our nation became clearer.
It’s been a year of hardship and heartbreak for too many families. This includes our own Farm Policy Facts community, as we mourn the loss of Tony Dill, President of the Western Peanut Growers Association, Vice President of the Southwest Council of Agribusiness, a dedicated father and grandfather and a “lion in defense of American agriculture.”
Despite the incredible challenges and immense uncertainty that have defined the past year, America’s farmers and ranchers have never wavered from their essential mission: to feed others.
As we wrote last spring, “A global pandemic won’t break the spirit of rural America. And it won’t stop a seed from sprouting.”
Food and agriculture were quickly designated a critical part of our national infrastructure and farmers and ranchers worked around the clock to harvest perishable crops, plant for the next season, milk dairy cows and care for their animals.
It wasn’t easy, as the entire food supply chain fought diligently to keep grocery store shelves stocked while simultaneously pivoting to respond to changing market demand as restaurants and schools closed. America’s sugar industry, for example, was able to quickly shift 90,000 tons of sugar from commercial outlets to consumer packaging during the first six months of the pandemic. That’s the equivalent of packaging 45,000,000 four-pound sugar bags to ensure grocery stores remained stocked with an essential ingredient.
America’s farm families took enormous personal and financial risk to ensure that we could all continue to benefit from the world’s safest, most affordable, and most abundant food supply. And rural America continued to give back to others to help sustain their communities throughout a difficult year.
While Congress recognized the strain that the COVID-19 pandemic placed on rural America and delivered critical relief to help farmers and ranchers survive, the pandemic underscored the long-term need for Congress to continue its support of a robust and thoughtfully considered Farm Bill.
Congress must also continue to fund the programs that provide farmers and ranchers with the necessary risk management tools to weather these storms, such as crop insurance.
More than 55 agricultural trade associations, agribusinesses, and farm lenders recently sent letters to policy makers and elected officials emphasizing that cuts to crop insurance must be avoided in this year’s budget discussions, as the certainty provided by the crop insurance program makes it a “critical linchpin of the farm safety net.”
This is just one way that Congress can help foster a stronger ag sector.
In farming, there are always sure to be new challenges ahead – and throughout this year of hardship, many Americans have come to more greatly appreciate how much we all rely upon the essential work of our farmers and ranchers. We need to ensure that they have the tools necessary to survive.
It’s springtime once again, and there is hope on the horizon. Hope that the COVID-19 pandemic may end, and hope that this year will bring renewed strength and abundance to all of America.